Earworms, lyrics, and tunes in the brain

Last time I left off quoting Lady GaGa’s masterwork Poker Face. I continue to rag on it because I can’t seem to escape it’s repetitive and forced impingement on my vulnerable eardrums. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t afford much auditory privacy and some people in the subway are really determined to lose their hearing before old age. Whatever happened to iPod etiquette?

According to Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia I’ve got a bad case of the earworm. This is when a piece of music repeats compulsively in one’s mind. But if I hate the song so much why is my brain constantly replaying it over and over again? Sacks similarly asks:

What is happening psychologically and neurologically, when a tune or a jingle takes possession of one like this? What are the characteristics that make a tune or a song ‘dangerous or ‘infectious’ in this way? Is it some oddity of sound, of timbre or rhythm or melody? Is it repetition? Or is it arousal of special emotional resonances or associations?

Sacks is onto something here when he makes mention of rhythm and repetition. “Poker Face” has an absurd amount of repetition. The word “mum” is repeated 40 times in the song. The phrase “can’t read my” is spoken 30 times. (A link on how to get rid of earworm, wish I had found it sooner)

In any case, have you ever wondered how the brain actually processes lyrics and tunes? [Read the full entry at The Quantum Lobe Chronicles]

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