Can’t get you out of my head – what are music earworms?

Name something more annoying than having the same part of a song play over and over in your head. Oh, you can’t? I thought so. If it was the whole song, it wouldn’t be as bad, but it never is. It’s always the same couple of lines on repeat, all day. How do you get rid of it, when it’s stuck so deep?

It's in my ear gif

👂 What is an earworm?

I should probably start off by letting you know that earworms aren’t really creepy crawlies that enter your ears at night and move themselves in. Don’t worry, you’re not breeding actual worms inside your ears. This is just a term used to describe a sound getting stuck in your head. You know the ones that are on a constant loop that you can’t seem to stop?

The term earworm was first noted over 100 years ago in Germany. They called it öhrwurm which translates to earworm. It’s also known as “musical imagery repetition” or “stuck tune syndrome” depending on which scientist you ask. It is said that an earworm is made up of three or four bars of music typically which goes round and round in your head.

They consist of catchy tunes that are easy to remember because that’s how they stick so easily. Advertisements on TV and radio will often try to create a short, jingle that will stick in your brain and have you repeating it out loud at random moments. If companies can achieve this, it’s likely you’ll remember their service. I guarantee you can think of multiple adverts you’ve seen on the TV throughout the years that you can still recite their jingle word for word. Don’t think about it too much though, otherwise the song will get stuck.

It’s estimated that 90% of us experience an earworm at least once a week, with some having them even more frequently than others.

That’s quite extreme when you think about it. At least one song stuck in your head every single week. Repeating itself over and over. Sometimes it’s more annoying than others. In fact, I’ve found I’m more likely to irritate other people with my earworm than I am myself. That’s because I can’t help but sing them out loud whenever they crop up.

👂What makes a good earworm?

To put it simply, anything catchy. Songs that typically have a faster and more upbeat tempo that people can dance along to tend to do better. If someone can move about to it in any type of way, it’s possibly more likely to stick. That could be because you’re more likely to listen to it on repeat. If you go for a run, or you’re cleaning your house, you tend to lean towards the songs that pump up your energy and keep you going. Likewise, if you’re dancing at a party, it’s not typically going to be to something soft and slow.

Another factor is the complexity of the music. Small children pick up nursery rhymes really easily and that’s because they’re repetitive. If you have a song with a simple structure, and the words fit the pattern of which your pitch rises, you’re more likely to get this stuck in someone’s head. If your music is complex, like rap for example, it might have a harder time becoming embedded in someone’s brain. This isn’t because your music isn’t good, but sometimes rappers go so fast it can be hard to pick up what they’re saying.

👂 How do I get rid of an earworm?

A method which typically involves a lot of bug repellent. I’m kidding. As I said, they’re not actual worms, I promise. You do have to completely give up music forever though, it’s the only way…

It’s been suggested that the new digital age has caused earworms to increase. Before modern technology, people weren’t able to listen to music as often as they can now. It was only really special occasions where they might attend the theatre or hearing hymns in church. Nowadays even if we don’t want to listen to it, we don’t typically get a choice. It’s all around us. We go to the store and music is playing. A lot of us choose to listen to music to pass the time on our commute or while working and studying. Truth be told, I’m listening to music while writing this blog post.

To finally stop those two lines running round and round in your mind, you need to listen to the song. I know, it’s probably the last thing you want to do right? Why would you want to hear the same lyrics you’ve been hearing on repeat? Unfortunately it’s got to be done. They say that you need to listen to the full song, once to completely get rid of that particular earworm. Don’t get your hopes up though, another one will be along soon.

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