That tune you just can’t get rid of for hours or days. That song that slowly gets on your nerves and clings to your brain. At first somewhat amusing, but after its ninety-sixth return, you wish you could just strangle it. For those of you who’ve been haunted by endless loops of “Despacito” or “Shape of You” to name but a few, here are some fun facts about catchy tunes aka earworms… ??#ThePowerOfMusic
- There is no earworm formula
If you could define exactly how an earworm works, you would probably be rich by now. Ultimately, you would reveal the secret of writing a major hit. Of course it doesn’t work that way. Although there are studies by various scientists, which mention special intervals, the reduction of the essentials and much more. These are just theories that only limit the phenomenon in a superficial way and can be difficult for us musicians to grasp.
- Musical minimalism
The curious thing about earworms: it’s usually simple melodies that get us going. According to the cognitive musicologist Dr. John Ashley Burgoyne from the University of Amsterdam, the simplest melody – and only the melody! – is crucial for the birth of a catchy earworm. It is easy to understand that pop music is more likely to be an earworm as opposed to complex jazz pieces.
- Homage to the complexity of the brain
Interestingly enough, some of the catchiest classics are nursery rhymes and children tv series or movie themes. Children’s music is easy to understand and virtually barrier-free for the brain. Who doesn’t know the legendary “Mahna Mahna” by the Muppets or Postman Pat’s theme song? You’d recognize them instantly!
- The unfinished sticks in the head
Once the earworm’s present, it doesn’t go away as fast. This is due to the so-called Zeigarnik effect, named after the Russian psychologist Bljuma Wulfowna Zeigarnik. The theory is that one remembers interrupted, unfinished tasks and unfinished thoughts better than completed tasks. Usually one remembers but a short fragment of the song. In our brain, the song is not complete, resulting in an annoying continuous loop.
- From the never-ending party to the never-ending earworm
In most cases we associate the earworm with a certain situation, an experience, or an emotion. And when those feelings come back in any context, so does the earworm. For example, the memory of the last party of your holiday: Intoxicating substances in your system; best party ever… Now back from holiday at the next party, the memories come streaming back, and you find yourself back in El Arenal.
- Don’t worry, you’re not alone
It is interesting that the earworm can often be recalled by several people at the same time. This is logical, since it’s usually linked to a specific situation or memory i.e. when you party together with others, you share a common memory that can be activated again and again. Imagine that you get on the tube and mutter an automated “Mahna Mahna”. As soon as you know it there’ll be at least ten others muttering “Ba Dee Bedebe” next to you. Congratulations.
- And how do I get rid of this thing?
One way is to chew gum and deliberately fool ourselves. Chewing gum suggests to the brain that we are humming something in front of us and influences the acoustic short-term memory. Actively bid farewell to earworms!
- Thinking helps
It is also ideal if you give the brain something to think about. A puzzle, an interesting topic. Earworms are especially noticeable when the brain has little to do, such as monotonous work or relaxed driving. So feed your thinking apparatus – if possible not too light or too heavy food – and create a mental reset.
What are some of your most annoying earworms and how do you get rid of them? Let us know in the comments! ?✍