Earworm – Getting Songs Stuck In the Mind

An earworm is best described as a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing. There are several phases describing an earworm.  These descriptions include…

  • musical imagery repetition,
  • involuntary musical imagery, and
  • stuck song syndrome.

Musicians and people with OCD most commonly suffer from earworm attacks. An earworm involves a small portion of a song, a hook. That auditory portion is equal to the memory capacity of the victim’s auditory short-term memory.


Can’t get it out of my head

Got a song stuck on replay? Developed a hatred of a certain song? Vadim Prokhorov calls this pesky phenomenon of the ‘earworm’. As a songwriter you can use this to your advantage.  By making a memorable melody or song hook can effectively embed your song in the listeners mind.

Musical imagery: Sound of silence activates auditory cortex

Auditory imagery occurs when one mentally rehearses telephone numbers or has a song ‘on the brain’ — it is the subjective experience of hearing in the absence of auditory stimulation, and is useful for investigating aspects of human cognition. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify and characterize the neural substrates that support unprompted auditory imagery and find that auditory and visual imagery seem to obey similar basic neural principles.

Beyond Dr. Earworm – Business professor’s research is more than catchy tunes

The unusual research conducted by UC business professor James Kellaris has literally made its way around the world, garnering national and international press coverage. Kellaris’ research explored the phenomenon of “earworms,” the result when a catchy tune gets stuck in your head. While earworms affect many of us, there is no known cure. And while Kellaris says he is thrilled with the attention the research has received, he wants “UC Magazine” readers to know he’s not just “Dr. Earworm.”

Earworm Top 10

  1. Kylie Minogue, Can’t Get You Out of My Head
  2. James Blunt, You’re Beautiful
  3. Baha Men, Who Let the Dogs Out
  4. Mission Impossible theme
  5. Village People, YMCA
  6. Happy Days theme
  7. Corinne Bailey Rae, Put Your Records On
  8. Suzanne Vega, Tom’s Diner
  9. Tight Fit, The Lion Sleeps Tonight
  10. Tiffany, I Think We’re Alone Now
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  • Songwriter Tip:

    While it is true that you can use any form and insure a maximum amount of both repetition and musical interest, always remember that a spare lyric at a slower tempo has more of an obligation to be interesting. You’re making the listener wait for that lyric to unfold, and it had better be worth the wait. The same is true of the music.