Friday, September 9, 2011

The Song in Your Head

Do you have a song in your head right now? I do: “Gold Lion” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Since this morning, I think I’ve had about four or five different songs in my head.

When you get a song in your head, are you usually annoyed by it? Does it get on your nerves because your brain keeps replaying the same few phrases? Does it make you start to strongly dislike a song that you originally loved?

On the other hand, perhaps you love having different songs playing in your head. Does your mind give you enough song variety that it’s kind of like a personal radio station that serves to entertain?

Personally, I usually don’t mind having songs in my head. They are usually pretty good songs (since I only listen to good music!), and they seem to trade off with a new song often enough.

For me, the most interesting part of having a song in my head is how the song got there. Sure, sometimes I hear a song somewhere, and then it sticks with me long after the song stops playing. Sometimes, however, a song seems to just appear out of nowhere in my mind, which usually happens in the morning when I wake up.

When I wake up with a song in my head, I often wonder how it got there. Did I dream about something that pertained to the song? Did someone in my dream say something that sounded a lot like a lyric I know? Did I fall asleep with that song in my head but just don’t remember?

Seriously, it seems strange to get a song in my head when I know that I didn’t listen to it recently. It seems like a little surprise that my mind presents me with several times a day; however, I am reasonable enough to figure that there must be some sort of explanation for it. I just don’t know what it is.

I’ve looked at a few sites about getting songs in your head, and it’s kind of interesting. Here’s what I’ve found:

·         When someone has a song in his/her head and cannot get it out, this phenomenon is called “earworms,” or “ohrwurms” in German. Basically, getting a song in your head might start with a mere phrase, musical stanza or lyric, and then your brain develops the itch to fill in the gaps with more of the song, creating a repetitive cycle of music.

·         Catchy pop songs are usually the culprits that overstay their welcome in our heads and become just plain annoying. They are the simplest in structure, so they are easiest for our brain to replay over and over again.

·         Musicians (oh, seriously? I never would have guessed), women and people under stress tend to complain of songs being stuck in their heads longer and more often than others (according to research conducted by marketing professor James Kellaris).

·         Dr. Kellaris has also said that the songs we get in our head are typically repetitive, simple, or incongruent (i.e. having interesting rhythmic variations). His research has further led him to believe that people will get songs that their brains somehow find extraordinary or interesting or unusual stuck in their heads. Thus the need for the brain to repeat the song over and over—in an attempt to make better sense of it.

·         According to Cecil Adams’ article on earworms, one theory that could explain earworms is that they are a side effect of our brains consolidating our memories, which is similar to what happens when we sleep and dream.

·         According to Oliver Sacks in his book Musicophilia, we get songs in our head simply because we constantly hear music, here and there, at home, at the mall, on TV, in movies, at concerts, in the car, and so on, and so forth. We can’t really get away from it.

I also found a web site called, which helps people get the song that`s stuck in their head out of their head, using different music. However, the site has a disclaimer that reads,

Using the latest in reverse-auditory-melodic-unstickification technology, we've been able to allow our users to “unhear” songs by hearing equally catchy songs. So really all we're doing is making 
you forget your old song by replacing it with another one... sorry.”

Only use this site if you are in desperate need to change the song! I had a bar of an annoying techno song in my head for a few hours after just being on the site for less than 30 seconds! Maybe it should be called!

There isn`t much credible information online about the science of music in our minds, so my wonderings have kind of gone unanswered. If you can shed any light on my questions, please do tell! In the meantime, I will just continue wondering at our human brains, which keep proving themselves more and more complex, the more and more I think and learn about what they are capable of doing.

The way our brains work is amazing, constantly drawing from information stored in our memories to play certain songs at often seemingly random times, sometimes to annoy, sometimes to surprise, and every once in a while, to unexpectedly inspire and move the soul.

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