What to do when earworms strike

Remember the old 70s song that starts with the lines “What they do!” “They smile in your face…”?

Parts of this song were stuck in my head for most of last week. I sang it to myself over and over again.

I couldn’t stop. Hoping the pieces of the song would fall into place, I kept repeating what I could remember.

At first, just the lyrics of the first line came to me, “What they do! They smile in your face…”

Then I remembered that those lines were joined by a drumbeat.

“Cha Cha Cha!” I heard a snare drum in my head wedded to the phrase, stressing each word forcefully and equally. I sang it a few more times.

It felt like I was getting closer to scratching an itch in the middle of my brain as the song started to reveal itself.

The song’s good old Philly soul harmonies came back to me. I kept singing it until I got the melody right and then I remembered the next lyric, which was also the name of the song, “Back Stabbers!”

According to an article on Howstuffworks.com, this happens to 99 percent of us. The phenomenon of getting a song stuck in your head has a few really cool names, “repetunitis,” “melodymania,” and the best one: “earworms!”

When a case of earworms hits, it can feel like we’re at the mercy of our minds, doomed to repeat the parts of the song that we remember.

Researchers believe the compulsion to complete the song happens because the brain is trying to connect the dots and fill in the missing pieces of the pattern.

Earworms aren’t just a modern phenomenon. Back in the 1700s, Mozart’s children would drive him crazy by starting a melody on his piano and then walking away leaving half of a melody hanging in the air.

This drove Mozart nuts, according to Exploratorium.edu. Each time his kids would do this, Mozart had to rush downstairs to finish the tune.

I don’t mind falling prey to earworms every now and then. But for anyone who has a similar reaction to the phenomenon as Mozart’s, the University of Cincinnati has a few suggestions to aid a speedy recovery.

1. Sing another song, or play another melody on an instrument.
2. Switch to an activity that keeps you busy, such as working out.
3. Listen to the song all the way through (this works for some people).
4. Turn on the radio or a CD to get your brain tuned in to another song.
5. Share the song with a friend.
6. Picture the earworm as a real creature crawling out of your head, and imagine stomping on it.


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in earworms, Mozart, music, psychology, soul music, The Joy of Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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