You have most likely had an earworm, even if you are unfamiliar with the name. A musical tune, or small piece of one, gets stuck in your brain on endless repeat. You redirect your attention elsewhere, and then, seconds to days later, you realize ITS STILL PLAYING!

I’ve had a lot of earworms over the years. My most persistent one was the Michigan fight song, “Victors Valiant”. The first few bars played their ascending melody in my head for weeks. I’d be doing something and realize I was humming aloud. Again. Annoying for me and maddening for BA, who is a musician and really attends to snatches of tune.

Related to that, over the years, people have commented that “you must have music going all the time in your house, since you both love music”. Not so. Our house is almost always quiet. Music is rarely on as background, only for certain chores. If something is playing, it’s by deliberate choice.

Back to the earworms. Victors played for a long time, and eventually played itself out. There have been many (unsolicited) candidates for a full time position since, and thus far, none have succeeded. I’ve actually been able to repurpose Victors, and use it as a worm eraser. If a tune is being persistent in my head, I’ve found that if I start humming Victors out loud or silently, the offending worm dives deep and Victors fades quickly.

I’ve wondered what attributes lend themselves to ear worm candidacy. Catchy tune is part of it, and rhythm as well. BA and I have both noticed that the rhythm of a spoken phrase will link to the rhythm of a song lyric, and ere long, the tune is on autoplay. I have noticed that when I am repeating an activity previously associated with an earworm it reactivates. My unconscious knows the soundtrack, it seems. I’m recurrently amazed at how much happens just below the level of conscious awareness. I know this intellectually, and I still get surprised. In fact, that was the impetus for this post.

This morning, I found I had an ear worm going. Puzzling as to its source, I realized it had started with something BA had said while we were drinking our coffee a few hours earlier. Right now, I consciously recall neither the starter phrase nor the melody involved, but I’m sure they are composting away in my subconscious, ready to nurture a new generation of earworms.

If you want to know more about earworms, this wikipedia article has a decent summary and a lot of good links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earworm

If you’ve had a particular experience with earworms or a favorite/dreaded tune, please feel free to share them in the comments.

My apologies to all of you who have activated earworms reading this post!


6 thoughts on “Earworms

  1. My two most persistent earworms are “It’s a Jolly Holiday with Mary” from Mary Poppins and “Mele Kalikimaka” (that “Hawaiian” Christmas song). I can go years without hearing either of them, but they still pop into my brain on a regular basis. Maybe I have a thing about holidays?


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