It happens to nearly everyone: You hear or remember a bit of a song and it gets ‘stuck’ in your head all day.
Now, researchers say this condition, often referred to as the ‘earworm effect’ is more likely with some songs than others. They point out that it is certain features of the melody that make it more prone to getting stuck in people’s head.
Musically sticky songs seem to have quite a fast tempo, along with a common melodic shape and unusual intervals or repetitions. One common melodic pattern is a rise and then a fall in pitch between phrases. The researchers cited the nursery rhyme, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’ as an example of this melodic form.
According to the study, 90 percent of people get a song stuck in their head at least once a week, typically when the brain is relatively unoccupied, such as while walking or doing chores.
To find out why some tunes get stuck while others do not, the team behind the study asked more than 3,000 people to list the songs that most tended to get stuck in their heads. The researchers then compared the melodies of these earworm songs to those of songs that had not been cited as earworms but had achieved similar popularity on music charts.
The study reported that the earworm tunes typically had a faster tempo and a fairly generic and easy-to-remember melody. Songs that got more time on radio and were recently on hit charts were also more likely to become earworms. Earworms can also occur when words, images or other associations dredge up a song from our memory, the researchers said.
But how do you get an annoying earworm out of your head? The researchers offered up some tips:
Listening to the earworm song all the way through can actually help stop it from continuously looping in your brain. Distract yourself by thinking of or listening to a different song.
Try not to think about the earworm and let it fade away on its own; this is what eventually happens to most earworms. The study could probably help aspiring songwriters or advertisers write a jingle everyone will remember for days or months afterwards. It could also be of real significance in neurological research as it could help better understand how certain brain networks behave.