Hum that tune: YouTube’s new feature could tell you what song is stuck in your head

A YouTube test promises to identify songs by humming - a step up from Apple-owned Shazam (Castorly Stock / Pexels)
A YouTube test promises to identify songs by humming - a step up from Apple-owned Shazam (Castorly Stock / Pexels)

Sometimes the best way of getting a song out of your head is to listen to it. But what if you don’t actually know what the song is called?

Google-owned YouTube is now testing a feature for just this scenario. Select Android users can search for songs on YouTube just by humming the melody for three or more seconds.

“Once the song is identified,” Google explains, “you’ll be sent to relevant official music content, user-generated videos, and/or Shorts featuring the searched song in the YouTube app.”

Google says that only a “small percentage” of Android users are enrolled in the test, but if that includes you, you can access the feature by toggling to song search. Once there, record three or more seconds and the app will do the rest.

The feature isn’t completely original. Identifying music via humming has been a part of SoundHound for some time, and it’s not even new to YouTube’s parent company Google, either.

Back in 2020, the company introduced ‘hum to search’ to the Google app and Google search widget, and the company tells TechCrunch that the YouTube implementation is based on the same technology.

That means its machine learning models “transform the audio into a number-based sequence representing the song’s melody”, according to Krishna Kuman, a senior produce manager at Google Search.

“We compare these sequences to thousands of songs from around the world and identify potential matches in real-time,” the blog post continued.

“For example, if you listen to Tones and I’s ‘Dance Monkey,’ you’ll recognise the song whether it was sung, whistled, or hummed. Similarly, our machine learning models recognise the melody of the studio-recorded version of the song, which we can use to match it with a person’s hummed audio.”

The machine learning algorithm does seem to have been refined in the last three years, however. When introduced in 2020, Google said you needed to hum for ten to 15 seconds, whereas it now claims that three or more seconds will suffice.

That’s helpful to those who can remember that three-second guitar bridge, but can’t recall the chorus, verse, lyrics or anything else.