Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Why are some songs so catchy and others so forgettable? More to the point, why do some songs come, unbidden, to play over and over in our heads? I’ve heard these called various things ... ear-worms, sticky music, … my favourite, coined by a musical friend is hum-clinger. 

Where do ear-worms come from? The term stuck-song syndrome would seem to indicate that there is a pathology involved and certainly when you have one it can drive you quite crazy. My suspicion is that dreams and ear-worms come from the same place in the mind. It might be the same place where ideas are generated and, like dreams, these pieces of music that pop into our head could indicate something about our concerns or desires of the moment. 

The best way I’ve found to rid myself of an ear-worm is to find a temporary replacement that I know will go away - The Stars and Stripes Forever is a favourite of mine.

Great composers, like John Phillip Sousa, composer of The Star and Stripes among many other memorable marches, were masters of the use of repetition and development of a musical phrase. Beethoven was ‘the’ master of repetition and development. His Fifth Symphony is, perhaps, the very best example, and a frequent ear-worm for me. Those four notes in the pattern da-da-da-dahhhhh appear over and over throughout the piece. 

Songwriters who are successful are aware of the phenomenon of a song becoming popular because of repetition of both rhythm and melody. Some refer to it as the hook. As well, in a song, words can be repeated and emphasized using rhythm, making the song unforgettable ... like this one sung and played by an unforgettable artist. 


  1. As a dj I spend a big part of my life causing ear worms. :D

  2. Hi Deana, An interesting post and topic. As far as I can gather music involves the whole of the brain and particularly the older limbic areas but it is also manifest in the consciousness of the frontal lobes. All very positive even in advanced Alzheimer’s cases the brain lights up all over the place upon hearing a familiar song, something that was all too prevalent to see firsthand whilst giving mini concerts to aged care residents. Eyes, smiling expression foot tapping all come to life as bygone unforgettable emotive memories rather obvious once again flood the brain.
    Getting rid of a Worm might be hard work because it’s what your brain likes and seems to effect more musically inclined folk more so than others. The solution, if you can call it that, apparently is to concentrate hard on some mental task for an hour or so, such as a wicked Sudoku puzzle, to start to get relief.
    Best wishes

  3. Hi Lindsay and Joey!
    My father was a part-time dj. I know how he would play a few numbers at the start to size-up the group and then, using his encyclopedic knowledge of his collection, would tailor the music to get as many folks up dancing as possible through the evening.
    Sadly, my dad and I were estranged when he was older, and had Alzheimer's ... I can only wonder if the memory of all his favourite music was the last to go.

    Lindsay, I can do a puzzle and hum my ear-worm too; so 'talented'. Sigh :-(

  4. Hi Deanna
    Than the last remaining option is shock treatment- try an icy cold shower each day but start slowly as I don’t want your partner to find you unconscious in the shower. Build up slowly so you can eventually put up with the intense pain for say 4 minutes. The worm won’t survive it.
    Best wishes