How to Identify a Song on Any Smartphone, PC, or Tablet

By Chris Hoffman on August 21st, 2015

speaker and guitar

What’s that song playing right now? At one point, your best bet was to hope your friend knew — or try to listen to the lyrics and search for them. Now, you can just have your phone, tablet, or PC listen to it. This is all built into modern operating systems.

Shazam was the app that really brought this to the masses, and it’s still available on modern smartphones and tablets. But it’s not needed anymore — although it’s not obvious, voice assistants like Siri, Google Now, and Cortana can all do this.

iPhone and iPad

To get started, open Siri by long-pressing the Home button. Say something like “What song is playing?” or “Name that tune.” Siri will listen to the song and identify it for you. This feature is powered by Shazam, although you don’t need the separate Shazam app installed to use it.

SIri provides a “Buy” button that will let you buy the song in iTunes, but you can also just note the artist and name of the song and find it on another service.

Android

Google built this into the Google search app on Android. Arguably part of Google Now, this is one of the many “OK Google” voice commands you can use on Android.

To use it, you can just say “OK Google, what is this song?” if you have the OK Google hotword enabled anywhere. Or, tap the microphone on the search bar at the top of your home screen and say “What is this song?” Google also offers an “Okay Google, Shazam this song” shortcut if you have the Shazam app installed — that will immediately open the Shazam app instead of using Google’s own song-identification feature.

Windows 10

Cortana has this built-in on Windows 10, too. Open Cortana (or say “Hey Cortana”) and say “What is this song?” or something similar to activate this feature. Cortana will listen for music using your device’s microphone and identify it for you.

You can identify songs playing on your PC this way — just ensure you’re not listening on headphones and your device’s microphone will pick up the audio from its speakers.

This should work the same way on Windows Phone 8.1 phones and Windows 10 phones, which incorporate Cortana, too. It should also work with the Cortana app for Android and iOS.

Mac OS X

Apple hasn’t yet made Siri part of Mac OS X, so you can’t use Siri to do this on a Mac like you can use Cortana to do this on a Windows 10 PC. However, Shazam has made a free version of its song-identification app available for Mac users. You can download Shazam for Mac from the Mac App Store.

Interestingly, the app runs automatically in the background, listening to songs playing nearby and building up a list of songs you’ve heard playing nearby. You can wonder “what were those songs playing earlier?” and scroll through a list of them if your Mac was turned on at the time you were hearing them.

This also will pick up music playing on your Mac, assuming you’re playing it from your Mac’s speakers and its microphone can hear it.

Windows 7, Linux, Chrome OS, and Anything With a Web Browser

Midomi.com is a web-based tool provided by a SoundHound, a Shazam competitor. This is the closest thing there is a to a web-based version of Shazam.

This tool instructs you to “sing or hum” a particular song, but you don’t have to do that. Play the actual song for your computer’s microphone to hear and it will identify the song.

As with the above tools, this can pick up audio coming out of your computer’s speakers, too. You can use it to identify a song playing on your computer itself.


Obviously, this trick depends on matching a recorded song playing to a fingerprint of that recorded song in a database somewhere. It generally won’t work with songs being played live. If you can hear some of the lyrics, just plugging them into Google or another search engine often works wonders. Try enclosing them in quotes to find pages containing just those specific phrases. You’ll hopefully find lyrics pages associated with that particular song.

Image Credit: brett jordan on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/21/15
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