FolkTuneFinder: Why are the search results so different to what I typed?

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When searching FolkTuneFinder, you may find search results that you don’t agree with or can’t understand. You may think tune has nothing to do with your query, or the highlighted notes bear no relevance to what you typed. Here’s why.

The thing about folk tunes is that they’ve survived in the aural tradition, in many cases for quite a long time. A good tune spreads because people like it, and different parts of a tune may appeal to different people. We all hear and experience tunes slightly differently, and we can interpret and remember them differently too.

The tune you’re searching for has started in once place and made two journeys. The first one is to your ear, and the second one (fingers crossed) to the person who transcribed the tune. Those two journeys may have crossed continents, instruments and pubs. Accidentals and rhythms may have been tweaked to fit on instruments. Whole bits may be rewritten because the person forgot a bit or prefers it that way. It’s surprising that many tunes survive intact at all.

FolkTuneFinder indexes tunes that people have taken the care to transcribe, and allows you to search through them. In many cases there is a very slight difference between the dots and the tune in your head. It may be as simple as a dotted rhythm changed, or it may be a D changed to an A, or an upbeat added. FolkTuneFinder has to take your search input and match it against the tunes in the database in an inexact way, so that there is the best chance of getting a match.

Of course, you might type your query exactly the same as is written in the transcription, in which case you should get a perfect match. But you may also find tunes in the results which are different, but similar, and might have been correct in another world. In order to allow for the inexact matching, you have to allow for incorrect but almost-the-same tunes and accept both sides of the coin. If you want inexact matches to help you find a tune, you have to accept inexact matches that you didn’t quite mean.

Most of the time FolkTuneFinder gets it right, but you probably aren’t reading this unless it’s done something you didn’t expect.

FolkTuneFinder ignores rhythm and key, so it will match your query in any position in the sale, against any rhythm. This means that you might find exactly the same notes from one tune nestled in another, and you’d never know unless someone pointed it out. The melody search results highlight the matched note heads in red to help you to understand why it returned a given response.

Your search results are ordered by similarity, and the most similar one should come first. Usually the result you want will be in the top two or three results. But if you search for a tune that really isn’t in the database, FolkTuneFinder will do its level best, and give you the closest result it can. This may be wildly off the mark, but it’s the best match.

If you do come across a tune that isn’t in the database, please join the effort and register for an account, learn ABC (it’s really not difficult!) and start a FolkTuneFinder blog. Your tune will appear in the search index for people to search and find in the future.

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