Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Answer: How do I find this song that's become an earworm?

It's true: I got an earworm while bicycling... 

I know, I know--an earworm is typically a short, catchy piece of music.  But perhaps my brain (or ear) is wired a little differently and my earworm is a little longer than most.  Whatever the cause, my mind latched onto this tune, playing repeatedly in my head.  The problem was, I could NOT remember the name of the tune.  

Of course, this immediately activated my SearchResearch instinct--how can I figure this one out?  The only thing worse than an earworm is an earworm you can't name!  

Here's a recording of me whistling the tune: 

           playable m4a file of the mysterious tune 

FWIW, I could play it on the piano as well, but I realize that's kind of an odd skill to have, and not everyone has a piano at home.  But (almost) everyone can whistle.  

Now that you've heard it (albeit my tentative whistling), here's our Challenge:  

1.  What's the name of this song?  
2.  If you can't recognize it... how on Earth would you search for this tune? 

As I've said many times before, when you've got a problem to solve, try searching for a tool to help you solve the problem.  

What would I need to search for a song by whistling?  Here's my query: 

     [ whistling search engine ] 

which gave me the following SERP: 

I tried Musipedia, but it requires a Flash plug-in to access my microphone.  Since that's a bit wonky and slightly unsafe, I kept looking.  

Many of the later articles (e.g. GuidingTech or Mashable) all pointed to the Midomi musical search engine, giving it high marks as a good discovery service.  (To be fair, the #7 result for this query is a link to

This is my video recording of my using Midomi and finding the tune.  I'm not doing anything fancy here--I just recording myself whistling the tune (as you heard above), then launched Midomi, and clicked "playback" on the m4a file in a different tab.    

YouTube video link: 

As you can see, it found that my whistling matches the song "Wave," by Antônio Carlos Jobim.  

I was initially a little surprised when I listened to Wave on YouTube.  

For the first few seconds it doesn't sound ANYTHING like what I was whistling.  But I persisted in listening, and 10 seconds into the music, my melody magically appeared.  

Mind you, this doesn't work for absolutely every possible melody, it seems to work mostly with fairly popular and well-known melodies.  I was surprised, for instance, that I could not get it to recognize the popular Japanese folk tune Sakura (at least not with my whistling).  

Search Lessons

1. There are more search engines than you might imagine.  In a future post, I'll talk about some of the variety of search engines out there.  But as a general practice, when you find yourself searching for something, but just can't figure out how to do it, try searching for a speciality search engine.   (These are sometimes called "vertical search engines" because they focus on a particular market, aka a vertical.)  

Search on! 

P.S.  Caution:  Thanks (kind of) to Regular Reader Remmij who gave us a link to the Top 50 Earworms of All Time.  Careful... you might not want to open that page!  If you do, any earworms you get are not my fault!  


  1. Hello, Dr. Russell

    Thanks for the answer and for sharing always new tools. "Vertical search engines" are new name for me. And thanks for telling us about the Flash plug-in caution.

    I have a question, do you try to find the song using Google Assistant? I am almost sure that can give us the answer too but I'd love to confirm. Sadly I can't in Mexico. Find that song is not available here. Thank you!

  2. I'm sorry I missed the challenge. I have to say that many many people in Portugal (and probably everyone in Brazil) would recognize the song you whistled and know at least the first verse (and original title) of the song, "Vou te contar". The musical phrase ending you whistled, though, sounded strange to me. In fact, I just realized I've heard many sung versions (the more famous being probably João Gilberto, Elis Regina, Gal Costa and Nara Leão) but I may have heard the instrumental version very few times. And they differ in that last bit, those last five notes, which are lower (and, to my ear, not as beautiful) in the instrumental version. (The lyrics of that particular ending are "feliz sozinho", meaning "happy alone" — preceded by "é impossível ser = it's impossible to be".)
    João Gilberto / Elis Regina / Nara Leão

    In the English lyrics version, that bit is "a dream together" — preceded by "Whenever two can dream". Here's Elis Regina singing it accompanied by Toots Thielemann on the harmonica: Elis Regina & Toots Thielemans - Wave (Tom Jobim) (that bit is at about 0:30).

  3. The Android app SoundHound can be used for this - it helps me often.

    1. Did you actually succeed in finding the song Wave with SoundHound? I tried it, and could not get it to work. My sense is that it's a lot like Shazam and works only with original songs (not humming, singing, or whistling versions).

  4. While you can use Shazam, SoundHound and Midomi apps or services, even Google assistant has this feature now. Just ask - "What is this song"

    source -

    1. Have you actually succeeded in making this work with the whistling tune? (I tried several times and it didn't work.) I believe, like Shazam, that it only can recognize pre-recorded tunes that are in the database, and not tunes that are whistled, sung, or hummed.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This is a really neat research trick Dr. R, I am always getting songs stuck in my head and wanting to know who sang it or where I heard it.
    And not too bad on that whistling, I hope I can do well enough to use  Midomi.

    I knew I had heard that song you whistled before and now with the title I researched to see if I could remember where.
    Frank Sinatra

    Also Jonny Mathis did a nice version.

    Wiki says Wave has been recorded at least 500 times. No wonder we have it stuck in our heads.

    I swear this is true, today after I read this article and researched the song Angie and I drove out to Morro Bay for a late lunch; as we were driving by an outdoor bar and restaurant where there was a lounge act and you could hear them playing this very song ‘Wave’.

    ‘Affirmation of ear worm’ as Carlos Castaneda might have said.

    1. Thanks, Gary. WRT the "I just read about that!" effect, it's actually got a name. It's the Baader-Meinhof Effect, and it happens a lot. When you buy a new car, suddenly you start seeing it everywhere... or when you read about a song, suddenly, you seem to notice it all the time.

    2. Dr. Russell do you know the difference between this effect and synchronicity? I will search and try to find an answer.

    3. "synchronicity" is the co-occurence of events that probably have no causal connection. The Baader-Meinhof effect is purely about recognizing something you've seen before due to a priming effects. That is, because you saw something earlier, you are now "primed" (that is, especially sensitized) to seeing another instance of it. The priming effect wears off after time, as does the Baader-Meinhof effect.

      Love the link to the "condominium" island. Nice find.

    4. Hello Dr. Russell! Thanks! I thought that and then found that many said it was the same so searched more. Some even says: "Synchronicity is an illusion" and even new effects mentioned like "The Pauli Effect"

      On other topic, I read yesterday about Fitness app Strava lights up staff at military bases As you, Dr. Russell and other here have used this app at least one time, what do you think? The app light up private stuff or is just exaggeration.

    5. interesting find on the 'Pauli Effect', Ramón… are there 'worms' for all the senses… and including the mind? much to mull.
      "The Pauli Effect"
      “Wolfgang Pauli actually believed to some extent in this myth of the ‘Pauli effect,’ ” Fathi recalls, “he had a long correspondence with Carl Jung, and developed with him the theory of synchronicity – the idea that some events are linked by meaning and not causality. On one hand, this for me is kind of incomprehensible as to why some of the greatest minds can give in to superstition, or mystical beliefs. On the other, I believe that scientists who operate on this level of abstraction need to think so far out of the box that they entertain ideas and beliefs that waver between fact and fiction.”
      Jeffrey Ladd

      David Fathi
      ahh, the French – on fb
      "Since 1945, more than 2,000 nuclear bombs have exploded on Earth. Since the end of WW2, countries with nuclear power methodically bombed their own land – self-mutilation in the name of self-defense. This series examines the strange and inconceivable stories that have happened since. "

      fwiw, two other earworms of note:
      Lollipop Guild
      it's a small (& soggy) Paris after all
      …what synchronicity looks and sounds like ;-P
      2008, Japan

    6. militant West German terrorist group
      selective attention

      "How the phenomenon came to be known as “Baader-Meinhof” is uncertain. It seems likely that some individual learned of the existence of the historic German urban guerrilla group which went by that name, and then heard the name again soon afterwards. This plucky wordsmith may then have named the phenomenon after the very subject which triggered it. But it is certainly a mouthful; a shorter name might have more hope of penetrating the lexicon."
      frequency illusion - Stanford
      "Update: Independent reports indicate that the name “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon” was coined on a discussion thread on the St. Paul Pioneer Press circa 1995. Participants were discussing the sensation, and decrying the lack of a term for it, so someone asserted naming rights and called it “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon” presumably based on their own experience hearing that moniker twice in close temporal proximity.

      The more scientifically accepted name nowadays is “frequency illusion,” but Stanford linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky didn’t coin that term until 2006, over a decade after “Baader-Meinhof” was coined, and around the same time this article was originally written. So both terms are arguably valid."

      Arnold Zwicky's Blog
      neat image/read… Palo Alto
      Dan… still time - Jan 18, 2018 – Feb 25, 2018

    7. Thanks to you, Remmij! I like your links. They help to learn more and the photos are pretty cool. The 2000 nuclear bombs was a surprise. I will view the YouTube links later. Thanks again for sharing

    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I learn something every time I come over here to read and practice my research skills. Now that you mention it I see the Baader-Meinhof effect all the time. Kind of a double Baader-Meinhof effect effect.

    I have been whistling songs into Midomi to how it works and it has been great. It knew 'Sunshine of your Love' by Cream right away.
    It also knew "You made Me Love You" and sent me to the original 1913 Al Jolson version. I can't believe that song is 105 years old.

  8. "I'd rather be a barrel than a pail…" I have a tinear eyeworm…
    pan flute eWorm…
    Leo Rojas

    "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"

    I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail
    Yes, I would
    If I could
    I surely would

    I'd rather be a hammer than a nail
    Yes, I would
    If I only could
    I surely would

    Away, I'd rather sail away
    Like a swan that's here and gone
    A man gets tied up to the ground
    He gives the world its saddest sound
    It's saddest sound

    I'd rather be a forest than a street
    Yes, I would
    If I could
    I surely would

    I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet
    Yes, I would
    If I only could
    I surely would

    Vulcan earworm
    earworms fluctuate
    Austrian toddler
    Tölzer Knabenchor Kling Glöckchen klingelingeling
    Dr. Sanjay Gupta

    speaking of search engines —
    list of SEs… including defunct or acquired search engines
    by popularity - 80.52% (03/17) is that real?… or as real as a number can be?… at a moment in time
    had not heard of Curlie before… Last update: January 24, 2018 at 13:13:25 UTC
    Computers> Internet> Searching> Search Engines

  9. modern-retro times - a new candidate…
    disjointed reality…