Search by Melody

A shiny new feature has just been added to Hymnary's search capabilities: a new tool for searching tunes by their melody. If you've ever tried searching by incipit, you know that it is far from easy - you have to convert notes to numbers in your head, and if you drop a note or misremember a pitch, nothing comes up. This new tool aims to take the pain out of the process by letting you input your search melody directly in musical notation, with no mental gymnastics required! (Read all about how to use it here). Plus, it's an approximate search, so even if you miss a pitch here or a rhythm there, it will still find plenty of results (though you can always restrict it to exact matches, if you like). More details about the search engine's inner workings can be found here.

But being in its infancy, there still remains a lot of things to be done. Currently, there are around 2800 tunes that are searchable by melody, extracted from the MusicXML and MIDI files we have on hand. Some of them are different hymnal instances of the same tune, and some of them don't look that great on the search results page (many MIDI files don't contain enough information to format them nicely). As a result, we're working hard on some of our own ideas to improve both the interface and search results, but we're also anxious to get some user feedback. We're open to any kind of comment, question, or idea, so if you use the tool and have something to say, then let us know!


Hymn Tune Index

Have there been any discussions about merging the with Temperley's Hymn Tune Index? I recall not too long ago he put a plea for help in The Stanza, and it seems that where the DNAH data is sorely lacking in tune information, the HTI data would be a valuable addition.

Hymn Tune Index

There haven't been any talks about that idea, though we've spoken with people involved with the Hymn Tune Index. I agree that it would be convenient and valuable to combine the two databases. Searches for tunes at the Hymn Tune Index would give more useful results if texts and page images were available, if there were an easy way to search by playing notes on a keyboard, and if data were available after 1820. Searches for tunes at would be more useful with the large, accurate database and the sophisticated search machinery of the Hymn Tune Index.

However, there are inevitably issues and difficulties in combining projects like these unless one party doesn't want to maintain the project any longer. Perhaps as's music search engine and music database continue to develop it may become more of a possibility. At any rate, as we continue to add better search capabilities, MusicXML scores, midi files, and the like, we'll gain some of the power of the Hymn Tune Index.

What plea for help from the Hymn Tune Index are you speaking of? I haven't seen it.

Harry Plantinga Director

Temperley and HTI

I remember seeing a general call for assistance with the Hymn Tune Index in the Stanza, probably a year ago, written by Temperley. He was seeking people to help him expand the index beyond 1820. I never did hear anything more on the subject, there haven't been updates in the Stanza or Hymn, nor do I see any noticeable activity in that direction on the website itself.

I was just curious because took over the DNAH, and ultimately with this new tune interface will be fulfilling a very similar role in the field of hymnology as the HTI. Considering the enormity of both projects, it would seem sensible to pool the resources and get everyone working toward a singular, more complete goal. Perhaps with the working to index modern hymnals and work backward (or in multiple directions, as its contributors follow their interests), and with the HTI working forward, there might eventually be a point in the middle where putting the two together would benefit everyone. I'm not necessarily saying that should happen now, but it seems to be inevitable.'s music search's music search engine and music database continue to develop it may become more of a possibility. At any rate, as we continue to add better search capabilities, MusicXML scores, midi files, and the like, we'll gain some of the power of the Hymn Tune Index.

Mystery Tune Found!

Here's a user story - so excited I had to share... Last night I was watching the new National Parks film series by Ken Burns, which, of course, included a number of folk tunes in the soundtrack. In this case, a major focus of the first episode was the spiritual appreciation of nature which led many to push for the parks (i.e. John Muir), thus most of the tunes were old hymns. For most of them, the associated hymn texts came quickly to mind, but one in particular stuck in my mind without connecting with any hymn. This morning, with the tune still on an endless loop in my head, I simply had to find its hymn(s), so out came my hymnals. No luck scanning titles or tune names/meters. Then I remembered the great resource I'd recently discovered at After another fruitless search by title etc, I gave the melody search a try. At first, the results were too broad - which was (I'm guessing) because I failed to include bar lines in my query. Went back and edited it, and it came back with a much more focused result. My mystery hymn - "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord" to the tune LAND OF REST, appeared on the first page. Needless to say, I am very happy: the constant tune repetition in my mind is relieved, and I have something to bring to my next worship planning meeting. Thank you!

The new tool for searching

The new tool for searching tunes by their melody is an excellent work. I will definitely try it out and give you feedback. Thanks for sharing this post.

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