Sunday, March 2, 2008

identifying a tune





One of my very favorite reference books is Denys Parsons' The Directory of Tunes (1975). Identifying a tune is essentially a reverse lookup process, since what you have in your head is the concept and what you want to lookup is its designation. The challenge is to devise some sort of lookup table for those concepts; obviously alphabet, subject or chronology will not work, and even if you read music, how would you look up your piece among thousands of samples of musical notation? Parson's ingenious system is based on the relationships of the 12 first notes of a melody to one another. He designates the first note with an asterisk, then indicates whether each subsequent note moves up, down or repeats the pitch of the preceding note. Using the letters D(down) R(repeat) , and U(up), the opening of the Toreador's song from Bizet's Carmen would be rendered thus: *UDDRR DUUDU DUDDD. The entries - some 17,000 of them, mostly classical but also popular songs pre-1947 - are arranged alphabetically. Parson's book has been out of print for many years, and has become something of a collectors item...I was lucky enough to get a copy years ago through a book search agent. Now, however, the wonderful Musipedia has scanned Parson's entries and recorded them in a database...just select the "Melodic Contour" option and enter the Parson notation, and you can lookup the tune online. Musipedia also provides rhythm search, keyboard search, and even a recorder that allows you to hum or whistle your tune for identification. A wonderful site to explore if you're interested in music.

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