Please make the music stop…
Having woken up this morning with the theme song for the ‘Muppet Show’ in a continuous loop in my head, I knew what my article would be about today.
If nothing else, hopefully writing about it will exorcise this tune, as it’s now 2pm and it’s still going strong.
In researching this, I was amazed about how much information there is available on ‘Earworms’ as much of the literature names this phenomenon. Obviously, I’m not alone which is some small comfort.
Even if I can’t save myself, hopefully the information provided below will help someone out there suffering the same fate.
I’ll keep this short, as no doubt we’ve all been there. Studies report that over 98% of us suffer from this occasionally.
Earworms are those annoying snippets of music that lodge themselves into our brain and replay over and over and over.
These can be Top 40 hits, commercial jingles, or sitcom theme songs, but the common theme is they remain there annoying us, distracting us, or keeping us awake.
Besides ‘Earworms,’ other names in the literature include: Tune Wedgies, Head Songs, Melodymania, and Please God Make it Stop!
As mentioned, there is literary research available on Earworms.
Experiments have been accomplished, and a great deal of progress has been made in studying the problem, though few solutions are forthcoming.
If you’re interested in reading some of the science about Earworms, I suggest you start with Dr. James J. Kellaris who is typically sited in this area:
Kellaris, James J. “Identifying properties of tunes that get stuck in your head: toward a theory of cognitive itch.” Proceedings of the Society for Consumer Psychology Winter 2001 Conference Scottsdale, Arizona: American Psychological Society, 2001, pg. 66-67.
Kellaris, James J. “Dissecting Earworms: Further Evidence on the “Song-Stuck-In-Your-Head” Phenomenon.” Proceedings of Society for Consumer Psychology, New Orleans, Louisiana, American Psychological Society, 2003, pg. 220-222.
Yes, I’m just griping about it, others are actually doing something about it.
However, the research has little insight into ‘why’ it happens, but does provide information on what causes it to happen.
What makes a song ‘Earworm worthy?’
So why do some songs stick in your head and others don’t?
Well, sometimes they do it to us, sometimes we do it to ourselves, and sometimes there’s no explanation. Read on.
Chances are, the Earworm you have rattling around in your brain isn’t an entire song from start to finish. More than likely, it’s a simple, repetitive sequence that gets lodged there.
While there are any number of ‘catchy’ tunes out there that are by themselves annoying, we all tend to be haunted by our own personnel demon songs on a given day.
For most of us, all it takes is just a second of the song, and we’re off to the races.
Worse yet, you don’t even have to hear the music; just a single word can unlock the door in your unconscious and release the earworm.
To provide an example of this last thought, here are simply the names of a few songs. I guarantee that at least one will stick in your head (sorry about that):
- Jingle Bell Rock
- Achy Breaky Heart
- Stop (In the Name of Love)
- Who Let the Dogs Out
In addition to the inherent ‘catchiness’ of a particular snippet of tune, we also many times do this to ourselves by watching or listening our favorite movie or song too many times.
For example, for several weeks, my daughter’s ‘go to’ movie when nothing else was on was ‘Tangled.’ It seemed this was playing 24/7.
After several days, I noticed that I walked around with the tunes constantly running around in my head morning, noon, and night.
However, a co-worker had the habit of singing, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” dozens of times each day. This particular Earworm never found a niche in my head.
No rhyme or reason
So, reading the above anecdotes, it seems the scariest aspect of Earworms is they can be almost random.
The worst attacks I’ve ever had have been playing in my head as I woke up in the morning. And, invariably, it’s always a song I can’t stand and that I haven’t heard in years.
One wonders what strange pathways my subconscious mind travelled during the night that resulted in the Carpenter’s “Close to You” playing over and over in my brain.
Ways to make it stop
As mentioned earlier, research has come a long way in defining Earworms, but has made precious little progress in figuring out how to stop them.
However, there are some remedies that may do some good, so put down the electric drill, here are a few things that may work better.
Force another song into your head
Many people are successful by fighting Earworms with Earworms. At least with this remedy, you’re replacing something annoying with something you may be able to live with on a continuous loop in your head.
Personally, this rarely works for me; however, I have found when trying this I can have two songs running through my brain at the same time. Unfortunately, the original Earworm tends to win out.
Play it through to the end
Something that has worked for me in the past is to force the song to run its course. Perhaps the Earworm can’t live beyond the final notes. I find it works best if you force your brain to lower the volume on the final notes and add audience applause.
The drawback to this method is that you have to know the song in its entirety; something that may not be available if it’s just a snippet from a 1960s commercial that your brain just decided to recall.
Give it to someone else
Finally, if you’re truly sadistic, take it to work with you and hum a few bars to your co-workers.
Many people have said that passing it on to someone else often relieves them of their Earworm. At the very least, you’re making others miserable, right?