Steve Hull on Thursday 02 July 2009 Tweet this!
The wonderful music site Musipedia has a music search facility which gives you a number of different ways of specifying the melody you want to identify.
Most interesting is the musical contour search, a method based on something called the Parsons code of a melody. Using this system, you don't have to be able to read music, you don't even have to know the rhythm of the melody: all you need to know is whether each successive note in the melody is higher, lower or the same as the previous one. For example, the opening bar of Beethoven's 5th symphony would have the Parsons code *RRD, where the asterisk is a placeholder for the first note, the two Rs indicate that the second note is the same as the first and the third the same again and the final D indicates that the fourth note is lower than the third.
It doesn't, however, find Beethoven, because it's not long enough. Let's go a bit further, then, and enter *rrdurrdurrdurrdurrd. Sure enough, Beethoven comes out on top -- but there are a few other matches as well, including a song from HMS Pinafore.
How about the "Goin' Home" theme from Dvo?ák's 9th symphony ("From the New World"): *urddduuudduurddduuddr gets it right away, though it also brings up (rather inaccurately) Hony Tonk Women. Any other connections between wildly different musical genres? Typing *dudududdduuuduuu gives both Beethoven's Für Elise and Sympathy for the Devil (what is it about the Stones?). The system isn't always accurate and seems to work better for classical melodies, but it's still a very welcome tool.