Try These Tips to Get Rid Of a Song Stuck In Your Head

It's a quiet afternoon, and you are listening to a catchy song. You really enjoyed it, and play it a couple more times. You are all smiles, but now there’s a slight problem – you can’t get the song out of your head. You don’t mind it for the first few minutes, but then, the song refuses to go. It keeps on playing in a loop all evening and even when you’re trying to fall asleep. What do you do?!

We’ve all gone through the scenario above where some random song inexplicably plays like a broken record in our brain, and we just can’t shake it off. Scientists refer to this experience as an “earworm,” and Harvard Medical School describes it as an unwanted catchy tune that repeats in your head. Research shows that 92% of people experience earworms at least once a week and 26% experience them several times a day. This phenomenon is also called by other names, such as “stuck tune syndrome” and “musical imagery repetition.”

Related: Your Mind Does Play Tricks On You, Say Neuroscientists

Why Do Earworms Get Stuck In Our Heads?


People have all kinds of songs stuck in their heads – from The Sound of Music tracks to popular children’s songs parents are forced to hear repeatedly. But what does science say about this?

* A study by music psychologist Kelly Jakubowski found that earworms are tunes with a simple and easy-to-remember melody. This means that such songs are usually quite easy to sing, and the music typically also has some unique characteristics that set them apart from other songs. "Earworm songs are making use of these really quite simple overall melodic patterns," Jakubowski said.

Also, you would have noticed that earworms are often portions of a song that keep repeating. It’s almost as if our brain is trying to find a way out of that portion but gets stuck instead. 

* A 2013 study in the journal Psychology of Music found that familiarity with a song makes it more likely to become an earworm. The researchers of the study note that the participants didn't have to think too hard about the music to get it stuck in their heads.

* Research shows that having certain personality traits, like anxiousness and self-consciousness, may make you more likely to fall prey to earworms.   

* A 2012 study published in the journal Psychology of Music found that the more musical a person is, the higher the chance that they will experience earworms.

* Earworms can be triggered when you are stressed about having a lot to think about or when you are in a nostalgic state. It might be because your brain is trying to distract itself and thus clings to a repetitive tune and sticks with it.

How Do You Get Rid Of Earworms?

Earworms typically disappear on their own in a short time. However, in some cases, they can hang around for a long time, sometimes even days, and can cause undue stress or annoyance. There was a case where a 19-year-old student complained of music being stuck in their head for three years!

If you’ve had enough of your earworm, you can use these simple strategies to get rid of it.

1. Listen to a “cure song”

listening to song

One of the best ways to shake off an annoying earworm is by listening to some different tunes. A 2014 study identified 64 “cure songs” that can help control earworms. Some of these include Happy Birthday to YouGod Save the Queen, The A-Team theme, Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, Kashmir by Led Zeppelin, and Karma Chameleon by Culture Club.

In most cases, the participants said that the cure tunes helped them suppress their earworms without becoming earworms themselves. Those who had the cure songs stuck in their heads said they would prefer that tune rather than the actual earworm. 

Related: Science Says Listening To These Songs Will Reduce Stress

2. Chew some gum

chewing gum

Research suggests that chewing gum can help you cure your earworm. A 2015 study found that the act of chewing gum might interfere with hearing the song in your head as it “impairs the involuntary recollection of an auditory image.” The researchers found that actively chewing gum reduced unwanted musical thoughts and thereby led to earworm reduction.

Related: Can Chewing Gum Truly Be Healthy?

3. Listen to the earworm-triggering song all the way through

listening to song

Psychologist Daniel Wegner notes that the more we try to block an earworm, the more it’s likely to play over and over again. So, rather than trying to stop it determinedly, you should passively accept it. A 2014 study found that participants experienced some relief from their earworms after listening to the earworm-triggering tune all the way through. They even hummed or sang it and remembered the singer’s name as well as the song’s title. Some participants listened to other songs right after the offending music ended. 

4. Distract yourself

watching TV

Distracting your brain can be an effective strategy in coping with an earworm. Studies show that indulging in distracting activities like listening to the radio or watching TV, talking to your loved ones, reading a book, or even meditating can help direct your brain’s attention away from the earworm towards something else. 

Related: These Unbelievable Facts About Music Will Fascinate You

5. Try Solving Puzzles 


Solving tricky puzzles, particularly Sudoku or anagrams, can help you get rid of earworms, a study conducted by the psychology department at Western Washington University says. According to the study researchers, solving some simple anagrams can push the intrusive song out of your brain and replace it with some normal thoughts.

Related: Can You Solve These 10 Most Intriguing Logic Puzzles?

“The key is to find something that will give the right level of challenge. If you are cognitively engaged, it limits the ability of intrusive songs to enter your head,” said Dr. Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at the university. 

Five-letter anagrams worked best, they said.

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