Earworms (Songs that get stuck in your head)

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head in a constant loop? How that happens?? And HOW to stop it!

Published February 12, 2021, 12:00 am CDT

The dream of any song producer, the horror of haters, and the goal of advertising music.

To talk about earworms we first need to define the concept:


Earworms (earworms) are catchy tunes that are involuntarily repeated in a person's mind long after they’ve heard the melody.

To put it simply, they are worms in the shape of musical loops that invade and reproduce inside our ears.

But, which elements cause a melody to repeat over and over again inside our minds?



One of the most important elements of commercial or advertising music is the creation of musical Hooks. Hooks can be part of the accompaniment, melody, or lyrics, whose main objective is to capture the attention of the listener. The most obvious Hooks are in the chorus, since it represents the climax of a song, both in terms of music and lyrics.

If we want a song to get stuck in the listener's memory, some key elements are:

  • Repetition

For a hook to be more effective, it needs constant reinforcement of its catchiness. But if repetition is too literal, it becomes tiring. Slight variations in pitch or rhythm are necessary.

Luis Fonsi - Despacito:



The melody in this song has very repetitive patterns, each phrase is followed by a very similar one and the same can be said about the chorus.

  • Simplicity

Generally, the most effective hooks are the simpler ones, because, by nature, they are easy to be memorized.

Hechizeros Band – El Sonidito:



This song is largely based on a single-note melody, it doesn’t play a lot with its rhythm, but it’s extremely catchy and has a structure that repeats the same sequence several times. That simplicity is the genius of this hook.


  • Singable lyrics

Whether the lyrics have a deeper meaning or made-up words, singable lyrics are always a must if you want a song to stick with the audience.

Las Ketchup – Aserejé:



Aserejé, ja deje tejebe tude jebere
Sebiunouba majabi an de bugui an de buididipí x3

The chorus contains a series of extremely recognizable and singable words, but lack any specific meaning, they just sound good and we can't help but sing them.


  • Play with expectations

A balanced composition alternates between surprise and predictability. A song that is too predictable becomes boring, while on the other hand, a song with too much surprise leaves no ground to establish itself when listening. Creating interesting surprises and knowing where to present them is a difficult topic since, as the Reason Studios channel explains, "predictability is the bait that attracts listeners, but it is the hook that hooks them."

System of a Down  - Chop Suey:



After a pleasing intro, the song turns into a chaotic and dissonant frenzy.


The chorus is soft but carries a depressive subtext. Shortly before the end comes a cathartic contrast where not only the harmony changes but also the lyrics express deeper emotions with biblical passages and suddenly, the chorus’ melody that we’d been listening to transforms. This outcome is unexpected if we follow the rest of the melody, it releases the tension we accumulated during the song and makes those last seconds the most memorable part of the composition.


  • Sometimes they just need to shout something:

During concerts, which parts are the most engaging with the audience? There is a tune commonly called millennial whoop; this is a two-note tune constantly repeated during commercial productions.

Millennial Whoop  -



Why does it work? Thanks to its effectiveness at making the public sing and because listeners are already used to it.

Of course, syllables and expressions like “Hey!” work too, as in the following song:

The Lumineers – Ho Hey:



Or the “Duh!” In a song by Billie Eilish:

Billie Elish – Bad Guy:


  • Play with weird things

Weirdness will always stand out. Simple elements like slightly lengthening the first chorus in the song "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi, or everything that sounds like yelling (a combination of synthesizers and other sounds) in Billie Eilish's "Bury a Friend" have a more psychological impact than we think.

Bury a friend - Billie Eilish:



We also want to hear new things and artists who risk implementing unusual elements in their productions gain more originality with their audience.


  • Propensity

Music exposure: People will be more likely to develop this hearing bug the more music there is in their daily lives, which makes almost the entire population prone to this earworm.


Stimuli: There are external visual or auditory elements that we can associate with a certain song, even simple actions. The more exposed we are to these elements, the greater chance of developing a loop.


Extreme cases

OCD: People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, can suffer from an extreme variation of this phenomenon. While most people experience nothing more than discomfort for this earworm, OCD patients can have a very hard time since they can be stuck in the loop throughout the whole day, seriously affecting their concentration and performance. According to MedPage Today newspaper, it is likely that a very small number of patients suffer from this condition, but there are reported cases where patients had a substantial decline in their academic performance and personal relationships. Their sleep patterns were also affected, causing additional stress on the patients, which sometimes can suffer this constant loop over a period of several years.



Getting rid of an Earworm

  • Practice memory exercises: Tasks that involve mind exercising such as sudoku or puzzles can alleviate the mental repetition of songs, according to the University of Washington.


  • Intentionally singing the song: As strange as this sounds, accepting and not fighting with the fact that we have a loop makes it easier to get rid of it.


  • Meditation: Breathing with a calm rhythm and allowing the mind to focus on other sounds (usually ambient) or body sensations (feeling your breath and body) causes stress levels to decrease and take your mind away from the problem.


How about you? Do you have a song that you couldn’t get out of your head? Which one?


Tell us about it!









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