This concept, or annoyance in some cases, is called an 'Earworm'. It's not a parasite, but it is the name of an phenomenon where a song or piece of music gets stuck in your head for the day before it wanders away. Earworms can be contagious, as we all know! Interestingly, "..women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are most prone to earworm attacks" says James Kellaris.
I'm a 3 for 3! Lol. A woman, a musician and I'm often tired! How qualified are you for this notorious worm?
Physically, it is your auditory cortex (part of your brain) that is triggered when you listen to music. If you hear a part of a piece of music or part of a tune that you know well, your auditory cortex will finish the music line automatically. If you don't know the tune, and someone stops it midway, your auditory cortex will do nothing. Interesting, right? It's not a creative part of your brain, it's a memory tank!
In my experience, I get earworms from 2 situations primarily.
For example, if my child says, "It's fun to stay at Nana's." I'll find myself instantly singing YMCA ("It's fun to stay at the .."). If my youngest says "cherry", I can't help but burst into "Sherry, Sherry baby,". Or how about this, "Yeah, I feel good."? Do you have a song in your head? I do! ("I feel good... I knew that I would.")
The other way that I find myself getting sucked into music, is rhythms that I hear around me.
There is rhythm all around us. The ticking of a clock, the rhythm of skateboard wheels on a sidewalk, the sound of tires as you drive over a bridge, the sparker on a BBQ, the washing machine swishing, the speed of your feet stepping when you walk, etc. We're literally surrounded by rhythms all day long. (If you think you don't have any rhythm, listen to yourself as you do something very familiar and easy, like walking or brushing your teeth. You likely 'get in a groove', rhythm wise, and keep it for a bit. That is being rhythmical!)
These rhythms that surround us are what give me the most earworms! I cannot even tell you how often I'm walking around my kitchen (my most common place to be these days) and suddenly find myself humming a tune. No one has said anything, but for some reason I'm singing and humming random lines of Funiculi Funicula as I fly around, working. It is the most common music that I default to in my head when I'm walking. (Now you know how fast I walk when I work, just listen to the recording. lol. )
Rhythmically, this music is a 6/8, OR, another way of thinking about it is, compound time of a 2/4. Compound time is when you've got 3 notes on 1 pulse of time. In the case of the 6/8, each dancer count has 3 notes and each "&" has 3 notes.
Counts 1 & 2 &
Beats ||| ||| ||| |||
123 456|123 456
Can you see the compound time? The 3 beats under the 1 count? So, when I'm walking around my house, I'm walking the counts but my auditory cortex is hearing the consistent tempo of my steps and somehow I'm almost always walking the exact tempo of that Funiculi Funicula song! Crazy, right?
As a ballet pianist, I find that many teachers get stuck in certain time signatures or always sing certain songs as they mark their exercises. If you find that that is the case for you, change up the tempo or rhythm of your exercise!
Likely the skeletal tempo/rhythm of that exercise is defaulting your auditory cortex to lead you to that same piece that you always hum. Change up the rhythm/tempo (tango, or waltz, or rag, etc) and see what kind of creative magic you'll unlock in yourself! (If you're uncertain or insecure about what kinds of music you could be using, consider signing up here to be on a list to receive significantly discounted EARLY BIRD pricing on a music training course that is nearly complete, aiming for August 2020!)
Whether you're neurotic, a woman, stressed, a musician, or tired, likely you're part of the 99% that get earworms on occasion. The next time you do, take stock of where it came from, you might be surprised by the rhythms around you and perhaps even draw some creative ideas for your next unset class!
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