2017-12-07 / Editorial

Why is that song stuck in my head?

I Was Thinking…
By Cheryl Holladay

Sometimes I wake up in the morning with “earworms.”

Not to be confused with earwigs, earworms are songs that get stuck in your head.

The phenomenon is also known as sticky music, stuck song syndrome or Involuntary Musical Imagery.

The other morning, I woke up to Bad Company’s

“Bad Company,” followed by Hall and Oates’ “Kiss on My List,” followed by a third song, only to be followed up by Bad Company. It’s as if my brain is a radio and I wake up listening to an FM station.

Often, I have heard the songs the day before. I may remember hearing one in the car or at the store. Sometimes, I can’t figure out why a certain song has taken it upon itself to entertain me first thing in the morning because it’s been years since I’ve heard it.

What typically happens with me, is the earworm begins at an instrumental break. I find myself “listening” to it while thinking of other things, like what I have planned for that day, before I realize it has been several minutes that I’ve been replaying it automatically.

Once I realize the song is there, I feel the need to figure out which song it is by “playing” it until the lyrics come around and I can identify at least the title, if not the artist. There’s nothing worse in the world of music than hearing lyricless elevator music that is familiar, yet tantalizingly unidentifiable.

Growing up, I played the clarinet, but never quite grasped music theory, so I couldn’t say if the range of songs have something in common, like a chord or a key that make one song blend into the next. I just know the songs “appear” until I’m distracted by my daily activities or other songs I hear throughout the day.

According to a Nov. 19 online CNN story “Why can’t you get that song out of your head?” by Meera Senthilingam, earworms have the ability to “stick inside your brain, on repeat, long after you’ve heard them.” She referred to a new study, published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, as to why this happens.

The team of Kelly Jakubowski, a music psychologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, identified three main reasons why they occur: Pace, the shape of the melody and a few unique intervals that make a song stand out.

Senthilingam said the study has three options for removing an earworm: “Engage fully with the song by listening to it through to the end, distract yourself with a different song – though this could just leave you with another to get rid of – or simply let it run its course and don’t think about it, which is easier said than done.” Jakubowski said people may get the song stuck “because they don’t remember how it ends,” which may mean the first option will work.

In a Nov. 2, 2015, Psychology Today article by Victoria Williamson, “3 Ways to Get a Song out of Your Head...and what we’re learning about where ‘earworms’ come from,” she suggests the following: Reciting a mantra, prayer, poem or story; challenging your mind with something like a math-based puzzle (Sudoku); or humming another tune, like “Happy Birthday.”

A friend of mine has a certain song that she cannot stand to hear, because it gets stuck in her head. The song, “What’s Up?” is by 4 Non Blondes, released in 1993. It has a powerful vocal and interesting melody. The lyrics say, in part: “And so I wake in the morning/And I step outside/And I take a deep breath and I get real high/And I scream from the top of my lungs/ What’s going on?”

As I recall, my daughter, Jennifer, and I sang it at karaoke once and it was a lot of fun.

Now, my friend, who shall remain nameless, lest she not speak to me again, hates the song. She doesn’t like that it gets stuck in her head.

Having reminded myself of the lyrics and melody of the tune, I’ll be curious to see if I wake up with that song stuck on replay tomorrow morning.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2017-12-07 digital edition


What represents the first sign of spring for you?