Attack of the Musical Earworms: Why Do Songs Get Stuck in Our Heads!

There has been countless research and studies surrounding infectious earworms. This musical disease is highly active and can affect many people around the world. If you have ever had a song stuck in your head, which I am sure you have, there is huge speculation of the matter as to how it actually happens! Your brain is just a resting place for the sneaking, devious, miraculous musical earworm!

What is Music Earworms?

As you place your headphones upon for fragile yet inviting eardrums, you surf your music library for some impactful waves. These waves may be what you need in times of happiness, melancholy or anger.

Once you settle on a track, your mind begins to dive head first into the sea of emotional recognition. You may be sitting on the bus or tram looking out the window blankly while more mind swims into deep thoughts.

It is then where you reach a point of no return, as your headphones evacuate your ears. But, have you ever had that moment when it feels like the headphones never left your body?

The music almost sounds so clear and precise, that every motion existing after the halting of your musical excursion is narrated by one specific musical phrase or song.

You my delicate friend, have developed an earworm.

Although it sounds alarming, musical earworms are harmless to some yet may be annoying to others. Having a song stuck in one’s head is a part of life that we may not even acknowledge is a thing we do.

There are creative materials of musical proportions that have an incredible ability to crawl into the tubes of your ears and make a home in your memory.

These periods of music resemble a runaway train, as the repetitive nature of a song can be fun at first then annoying as time moves on.

The melodic phrase or two, seems to practically narrate your day as the translucent headphones blast the song, for no escape in sight. What is it that develops an earworm, or why is it that a song creates a gravitational pull or magnetic degree to the brain?

Are there certain songs that stick in your mind more than others?


Earworm Music

Throughout various studies, many researchers explain how songs that are often repetitive, distinct in rhythm or easy notes to sing for a wide range of listeners, are almost prone to become lodged in one’s head.

This notion fuels the radio and pop industry, as the organized machine flourishes on easy and comprehensive song patterns for the modern music audience.

With a touch of simplicity and uniqueness a popular song does wonders to the species of musical earworms.

In a 2012 study published in the journal, “Psychology of Music” 90 percent of internet users in Finland concluded to have a song stuck in their head once a week at least.

Also known as “involuntary musical imagery” the journal of “Consciousness Studies” proclaims the negative response of earworms for a composer and a pianist. Judging from the ability’s music has on your restless head, regardless of variation in earworm capabilities, musicians were found to have a lesser ability to earworms than non-musicians.

With an eclectic background of musical interpretation, the pianist described songs getting stuck in their head as a nuisance when creating new material. The pianist goes on to explain that earworms express prominent differences between memorable earworms and favorite song earworms.


Your Musical Brain

Let’s look into the brain. According to, the auditory cortex, which is the part of the temporal lobe that processes sound, becomes activated then listeners hear a familiar or favorite song.

The brain is fixated on the memory sector of the cranium, and lingers on frequently heard musical material. A study produced in 2013, found that familiar music was more likely to be an earworm.

During the study, it wasn’t hard for the participants to get the music stuck inside their heads. The study concluded that the participants were not affected by formulated questions about the music, yet the humming (or silent singing) prevailed.

The Disneyland park attraction song “It’s a Small World” has managed to creep into many listeners’ craniums. This is due to its long note structure paired with small interval pitches.

Contrary to this research, a response to this notion was posted in the journal “Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts”.

The rebuttal suggested that an earworm is more likely to happen when the musical material is easy to sing. Pop sensation “Lady Gaga” is known for being a highly intense earworm creator.

With songs such as “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” the pop Queen was ranked high on the Top 10 list of songs frequently getting stuck in people’s head survey from 2010 to 2013. With these songs bearing more fast tempo beats, the pitch patterns found in songs sung by “Lady Gaga” and “Maroon 5” are common in Western Music.



The best advice I could give when an earworm comes creeping into your mind and your soul: Embrace and rock out to the song in your heart! Songs getting stuck in someone’s head, should not be an annoyance, but should be seen as a unique experience to shed upon the preexisting structure of life!

I find that the only times I get a song stuck in my head, is when I am actually happy or content with my current state. Being a musician, I actually don’t find it a nuisance at all! I find that it brings out inspiration and ends up being an alteration or distorted structure for my music and songwriting!

The next time you have an earworm, don’t fight him, invite him!

Photo: Shutterstock

More articles from the author:

Why Is American Music so Popular?


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