It’s easy to remember, but so hard to forget

At a certain age, we start spending a lot of time trying to remember names, dates, car keys, glasses. But when an earworm wriggles in, we try instead to forget.

We all get earworms—songs or bits of melody stuck in our head. Intensely practicing a piece of music can give me an earworm. It can also happen when I’m sorting or indexing my sheet music (I can’t help it, I’m a librarian). I type the title into my computer, find myself humming the melody, and pretty soon it morphs into an earworm.

A few of my listeners have told me that after I play a song they haven’t heard in ages, it can rattle around in their head for the rest of the day. They’re not really complaining; an earworm isn’t necessarily music we find unpleasant. But when one song runs incessantly in our brain, it can make us crazy.

Some people only have to think about a song to suffer a full-blown earworm. A likely culprit? “It’s a Small World.” You know, the one that the mechanical dolls at Disneyland sing over and over again, in many languages. Truly catchy.

Besides my solo piano playing, I’m the keyboard player in a big band group. We’ve found that a Latin-inspired 1950s song called “Dansero” is earworm-inducing for at least one of our members. “Dansero” is a classic earworm candidate: a simple melody with lots of repetition. If the band rehearses the tune too close to our 9 pm quitting time, it can play in a mental loop that disrupts sleep later.

When a tune in your head threatens to drive you nuts, one of these tactics might provide relief:

  • Mentally turn down the volume of the song.
  • Sing the song through to the end. Add a big, dramatic finish to encourage closure.
  • Replace the offending song with another song you like, one that you’ve chosen ahead of time for just such an occasion. Of course, that replacement song could become your next earworm.
  • Play or listen to music that differs in style from your earworm. Swap bossa nova for waltz, rock for classical.
  • Do something to actively engage your brain: a crossword puzzle, Sudoku, solitaire.
  • Work out or take a walk.
  • Turn on talk radio.

Or just try to ignore the song. Your brain will eventually busy itself with another task and the earworm will shove off—until someone mentions Disneyland. There goes that song again.

Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Music and emotion and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to It’s easy to remember, but so hard to forget

  1. Sandy Shores says:

    Ah yes…..Dansero! A lovely song, except for one person. I guess I’m lucky. It’s very rare, even with all the music in my lifetime, that I get an earworm. When I do, I find if I just sing it through or just ignore it completely, it goes away. LOL Interesting blog, Paulette.

  2. Jessa says:

    Now I can’t stop hearing it’s a small world………………………… Thanks.

  3. How true! I’ll take your advice.

  4. Elizabeth Pratt says:

    Whatever you do, don’t think about the old Bumblebee Tuna jingle.

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