Why songs get stuck in your brain — and ways to make them go away

By lmt-editorApril 16, 2024
Est. Reading: 3 minutes

Have you ever found yourself humming the same tune over and over again, unable to shake it from your mind? If so, you're not alone. 

The phenomenon of having a song stuck in your head, also known as an "earworm," is a common experience that can range from mildly annoying to downright frustrating. 

But why do certain songs seem to loop endlessly in our brains, and is there anything we can do to make them stop? 

Let's explore the science behind earworms and some strategies for dealing with them.

Colourful human brain with music notes

The science of earworms

Although the exact mechanisms behind earworms are still not fully understood, researchers have identified several factors that contribute to this phenomenon. 

One key element is the "zeigarnik effect," which suggests that our brains tend to remember incomplete or unfinished tasks more readily than completed ones. 

When we hear a catchy song but don't hear it through to completion, our brains may continue playing it in an attempt to "finish" the musical sequence.

Additionally, the repetitive nature of many popular songs makes them particularly prone to getting stuck in our heads. Our brains are wired to seek patterns and repetition, so when we encounter a catchy melody or hook, it's easy for our minds to latch onto it and play it on repeat.

Furthermore, emotional associations play a significant role in the formation of earworms. If a song is linked to a particularly memorable or emotional event in our lives, it may become even more deeply ingrained in our minds, making it harder to shake.

Woman singing while listening to music

Escaping the earworm loop

While having a song stuck in your head can be irritating, there are several strategies you can try to help alleviate the earworms:

Distract yourself

Engage your brain in a different activity to disrupt the repetitive loop of the song. Whether it's reading a book, doing a puzzle, or having a conversation with a friend, shifting your focus can help redirect your thoughts away from the earworm.

Listen to a different song

Sometimes, the best way to get rid of one earworm is to replace it with another. Choose a different song to listen to, preferably one with a different melody and rhythm, to help break the cycle of repetition.

Chew gum

Believe it or not, chewing gum has been shown to interfere with the auditory imagery associated with earworms, potentially making them less intrusive. So next time you find yourself with a song stuck in your head, reach for a stick of gum and see if it helps.

Complete the song

Sometimes, allowing yourself to listen to the entire song from start to finish can help satisfy your brain's desire for closure and put an end to the earworm. Once you've heard the song through, it may be easier for your mind to move on to other thoughts.

Engage in mindfulness

Practise mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to help calm your mind and reduce the repetitive thoughts associated with earworms. By focusing on the present moment, you can train your brain to let go of the intrusive song.

Change your environment 

Sometimes, a change of scenery can help disrupt the pattern of repetitive thoughts. Take a walk outside, switch rooms, or go for a drive to give your mind a break from the persistent earworm.

Woman sitting on the couch listening to music


While having a song stuck in your head can be annoying, it's usually a harmless and temporary experience. 

By understanding the factors that contribute to earworms and employing strategies to distract your mind, you can effectively manage and eventually eliminate those pesky musical loops. 

So the next time you find yourself with an unwelcome tune playing on repeat in your mind, remember that there are steps you can take to regain control and silence the earworm once and for all.

Related articles