Why Songs Stick in Your Head

If you’re singing a song you heard hours after you heard it, it’s just “natural”. Certain songs tend to stick in our heads more than others, and for some very specific reasons, according to research done by the American Psychological Association (APA).

According to a study by the APA these songs, called “earworms” are  easy-to-remember melodic “shapes” witch set them apart from other songs.

Some examples of common “earworms” including in the study include “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey and, not surprisingly, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” by Kylie Minogue.

The characteristics of these musically “sticky” songs tend to have a fast tempo along with a unique melody/rhythm with unusual intervals or repetitions.  

Earworms are, not surprisingly, more likely to get more playing time and are on the top of the charts. But there has been limited knowledge about what makes them more “popular”.

Findings show that to some extent we can predict which songs are going to “get stuck in people’s heads”, based on the song’s melodic content.

The study found that the tunes most likely to “stick in people’s heads” are those with common “melodic shapes” found in Western pop music. For example, one of the most common pattern is where the first phrase rises in pitch and the second falls. like  “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, that we still remember from childhood, just more complex.

For all its uniqueness as music, it follows the forms found in nursery rhymes. The basic shape is the same; and it’s also why some “foreign” music can sound strange to us. Music is an acquired cultural trait, just as our common language is.   

Studies of “earworms” can help understand how the brain networks work.  they are involved in perception, emotions, memory and spontaneous thoughts in different culture and people.