It can be both interesting and annoying when there’s a song that keeps playing in your head. It could mean many things. You might really enjoy the song and the beats, so you don’t mind that it won’t leave your head for a few days. Unfortunately, and interestingly, this could happen even with songs that you don’t enjoy.

For instance, you may be exposed to a certain RnB song while you are at the restaurant or in an entertainment spot. Later on, you find that the song stuck in your head. It can be annoying, especially if the song is not one that you particularly like or would be caught dead singing. Worse still, you may find the lyrics completely inappropriate.

That Song

It’s not every song that will keep playing in your head like a broken record. This is a special class of songs, and is referred to as “earworm”. These songs are described as follows:

These songs, often called earworms, are usually faster, with a fairly generic and easy-to-remember melody but with some particular intervals, such as leaps or repetitions that set them apart from the average pop song, according to the first large-scale study of earworms. Via Elcrema

The fact that they are easy to remember makes them sell more. They also tend to be more popular than other songs.

Earworms are also more likely to get more radio time and be featured at the top of the charts, which is not surprising. Via Elcrema

It’s their characteristics that make them so easy to remember and remain in your head for days on end.

musical notes
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Characteristics of earworms

A study conducted by Kelly Jakubowski, a music psychologist at Durham University in the UK and her team, found out some specific things that distinguish earworms from other songs.

Pace: When it comes to earworms, one of the things that set them apart from other common songs is the pace.

As for pace, the earworms highlighted in the study were faster and more upbeat in tempo and generally had a rhythm that people could move to. “We have a propensity to move to earworms,” Jakubowski said, citing songs that people may use to pace themselves during a run. Via CNN

Musical shape/contour: Basically, earworms have a “simple yet complex” structure. Simple, in the sense that you can easily learn it, just like nursery rhymes. The complexity is in the fact that the song has a rhythmic pattern. The song is not all uniform, but it follows a given style.

illustration of listening to music
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Sounds may rise in pitch, go back down low and then rise again as a pattern, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Many nursery rhymes fit this pattern to help children remember them — so their creators knew what they were doing. “The quite simple melodic contour might help the brain to recall these things,” said Jakubowski.  Via CNN

Intervals: Earworms are also famous for intervals that make them stand out from other songs.

Last was the need for some unusual intervals within the song, just enough to add some catchy surprises while maintaining a simple, uniform pattern overall. “Although the overall melody has a simple shape, you’ll find some unique intervals,” Jakubowski said. “So it’s simple but different.” Via CNN

How To Get That Song Out

An earworm can be fun to some extent, but it could get annoying when it’s been on endless repeat in your head for days. Fortunately, there are ways to get rid of them, as described in the post below:

diagram showing music enjoyment
Image Courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

How to get rid of an earworm

Jakubowski found in previous research that the three top strategies for getting rid of an earworm were:

  • Embrace it: Listening to the song all the way through can help get it out of your head
  • Displace it: Listen to something else. The top-named “cure song” for getting rid of earworms is God Save the Queen
  • Let it be: Others find that the best way to get rid of an earworm is to just try not to think about it and let it fade away naturally on its own. Via IBM Times

One last strategy is described below:

“Or, if it’s really bad, ask your doctor for medication, such as anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs).”

Before you reach for the medication, perhaps try the other options first and, if you can remember how it goes, try praising the Queen of England in musical form. Via CNN

So now you know what’s happening in your head and you can relax knowing that you aren’t going crazy. If you’re a musician or songwriter and you want to make the next big hit, you can do so by making your song an earworm!

Featured Image: Image Credit

Why Is That Song Stuck in My Head?!

Related Articles:

Stop the music! The science of ‘earworms’ and the 9 ‘stickiest’ songs

Everybody complains about “earworms;” no one does anything about them.

But British scientists have been studying the maddening effects when a pop song keeps popping into your head — and won’t depart. Turns out there are scientific, mathematical and musical reasons why “sticky” songs are so frustratingly sticky.

Earworms (the musical kind, not the cringe-inducing bugs) have an actual scientific label: Involuntary Musical Imagery, or INMI.

According to the first large-scale study of earworms, such songs usually have a faster tempo, a fairly generic and easy-to-remember melody, and specific kinds of intervals, such as leaps or repetition, that set them apart from your average pop song. Via USA Today



Psychologists Identify Key Characteristics Of Earworms

WASHINGTON — If you’ve found yourself singing along to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” hours after you switched the radio off, you are not alone. Certain songs do tend to stick in our heads more than others for some very specific reasons, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
These songs, often called earworms, are usually faster, with a fairly generic and easy-to-remember melody but with some particular intervals, such as leaps or repetitions, that set them apart from the average pop song, according to the first large-scale study of earworms. The article appears online in the APA journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts®.

In addition to “Bad Romance,” examples of common earworms named in the study include “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey and, perhaps not surprisingly, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” by Kylie Minogue.
“These musically sticky songs seem to have quite a fast tempo along with a common melodic shape and unusual intervals or repetitions like we can hear in the opening riff of ‘Smoke On The Water’ by Deep Purple or in the chorus of ‘Bad Romance,’” said the study’s lead author, Kelly Jakubowski, PhD, of Durham University. Via APA


What Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ and Other Earworm Songs Have in Common

You should stop reading this now. No really, just don’t. You’re still reading. O.K., you asked for it:

“Rah rah ah-ah-ah!/ Ro mah ro-mah-mah!/ Gaga ooh-la-la!”

There’s your “Bad Romance.” Like the “ugly” “disease” Lady Gaga sings about wanting in this song, an earworm has likely just lodged itself deep inside the auditory cortex of your brain. There it will sit, sucking up your precious brain energy, for the next hour, day, month or even a whole year. ( I had Hall and Oates’ “Maneater” in my head for most of 2005.)

You are not alone.

“That’s all I can really think about right now,” said Kelly Jakubowski, a music psychologist at Durham University in Britain, about “Bad Romance.” Via New York Times