Why Do Songs Get Stuck In Your Head?

You know how it is when a random song deems your little old head worthy of permanent residence. The more irritating it is to you, the more it seems to never leave you throughout the course of the day. There could be a whole list of other songs playing through your earphones — songs you actually find pleasing — but your brain simply refuses to let go of that one ridiculous tune. It doesn’t matter what you do. You could be at work, trying to earn your keep, when the earworm decides to remind you of its existence. The wretched song continues to haunt every step you take, even as you’re trying to wind down in time for bed. You just know you’re not going to get the sleep you so desperately need to get rid of your dark circles. Why does this even happen to you? Is there anything you can do about it at all?


What Causes These Earworms?

Experts believe that earworms happen because of the multi-faceted way we process and interact with music. We may primarily use our sense of hearing to listen to music, but we don’t simply switch all our other senses off while we’re at it either. This is likely why musicians tend to get earworms far more often than people who are less musically-inclined. The more musical they are, they more highly attuned they are to any piece of music. Not only will they hear the notes in their heads, they will also be able to visualise the way they would appear as musical notations on a sheet of paper and feel the way their fingers move on instruments. Music may also be deeply encoded in emotion and personal experiences, which explains why certain moods tend to draw out specific songs from our memories.

There are also certain conditions that could trigger some songs into playing in our heads on repeat ad nauseum. One of them is having listened to the piece of music recently. Perhaps you’ve been passing through a mall that had a specific midi tune playing in the background. The second trigger is listening to a song on repeat, willingly or otherwise. Now imagine having to go to the mall out of sheer obligation and having to listen to that same midi piece for weeks on end. The third trigger is stress. Since you’ve been going through a stressful period lately, you’re going to start hearing that same song in your head whenever you’re stressed in future, too. Nice.


What Sort Of Songs Tend To Stick In Our Head?

Although we tend to notice it more when songs that are repulsive to us turn into earworms, a song doesn’t have to be terrible to stick with us. It’s usually just personal bias at play here. But there are indeed certain characteristics that make songs more likely to become earworms than others. Songs that are set at an upbeat and fast tempo are the biggest and most common culprits, compared to slow tunes. The structure of the song plays a part too: it’s usually the ones that are simply constructed but follows a certain pattern that tends to stick with us. That’s why pop songs with repetitive lyrics and melodies usually stay in our heads. Songs with intervals that are unusual while still following that same pattern through the rest of the song may also be effective earworms. Uniqueness and anything that stray from the norm tends to stand out to us, which is why we tend to notice and remember it.

Pop music songwriters do all of this deliberately. They actively want their songs to be massive hits that everyone can easily remember and the most effective way to do that is to get them into our heads by sheer brute force. The song needs to be able to capture their listener’s attention and mind long enough for them to feel the need to look it up and listen to it again. Sometimes, the song is so good at this that just thinking of the title is powerful enough to get a grip on your consciousness for the rest of the day without even actually listening to it. That’s a mark of greatness when it comes to the genre.


How Do You Get Rid Of An Earworm?

But what happens when you just want to be free of the song’s clutches once and for all? How do you get rid of something that has been playing in your head for hours on end? A method that you could try is listening to another song — make sure it’s a song that you like so that it won’t irritate you either. Another technique is to attempt to purge it out of your system by playing the song at least once and giving your full attention to the song all the way to the end. Good luck.