How to Get a Song Out of Your Head

Two Methods:Engaging with the SongDistracting Yourself

Almost everyone gets songs stuck in their head once every week or two. Called "earworms" or "brainworms," these can be pleasant and relaxing, or a nightmare. Read on to find out how to get this song processed and out of your head.

Method 1
Engaging with the Song

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    Listen to the song all the way through. Most stuck songs, or "earworms," are actually parts of a song, such as a catchy chorus or even just a line or two. Your brain might be replaying this because it's "stuck" on where to go next. Listen to the complete song from beginning to end. This may be the most effective solution, although there are still plenty of times it doesn't work.[1]
    • Engaging with the song doesn't work for everyone. If you hate the idea of listening to the song again, read the section above on distraction techniques.
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    Look up the lyrics. Unclear or forgotten lyrics can also "frustrate" your brain. Look the lyrics up online. Sing them aloud or "sing" silently to yourself to help your brain process the song.
    • If you can memorize all the lyrics, this might make the song too long to hold in your head.
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    Play the song on an instrument. If you can play an instrument, try to recreate the song. Grappling with the music and working out how to play it solves the problem for many musicians.
    • Try out different tweaks and variations to break the repetitive cycle.
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    Visualize the song changing. Even if you find this difficult, a sense of control can make you less anxious about the situation. For a few minutes, or until you start feeling frustrated, try to change the song in the following ways:
    • Imagine turn down the volume knob of the song, until it "sounds" like a whisper.
    • Imagine your mind as a room with many rooms. Build barriers in front of the song, slowly caging it into a smaller and smaller area. Each time you add a barrier, the song becomes quieter and more muffled.
    • 'Play' the song in your head at a different tempo, imagining it as (very) slow or fast.
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    Picture the song ending. Once the song is quiet, it's time to end it. Use more visualization techniques to kick it out of your head once and for all:
    • Visualize a sword or sharp object within your head, severing the link between your mind and the song.
    • Imagine a record player in as much detail as possible. Look closely at the needle moving through the groove as the song plays. Lift the needle and listen to the sudden silence.[2]
    • When you get to the end of the song, sing the last note (aloud or in your head), then let the pitch drop steadily until it's much lower than any note in the song. This can sometimes prevent it starting again.

Method 2
Distracting Yourself

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    Chew gum. For many people, chewing gum seems to interfere with the ability to "hear" the music in your head.[3] This may also help you ignore the song during the next step.
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    Let your mind wander. One study showed that fighting the song often leads to more frequent, longer episodes later.[4] Try to ignore the tune while you think about something else on your mind. This isn't always possible, but spend a few minutes trying.
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    Solve word puzzles. Anagrams, crossword puzzles, and other word-based puzzles can help drive away the song.[5] Thinking about words occupies the same area of your brain that plays the imagined lyrics. Stay focused, and your brain might only be able to stick to one of the two tasks.
    • If you notice no difference and feel yourself getting frustrated, stop. Occasionally, an earworm can get worse if you try to fight it.[4]
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    Distract yourself with a calm verbal activity. A relaxing activity may work best if you feel anxious about the earworm, or are worried you can't control it. Here are a few options that occupy the listening and speech centers of your brain:[1]
    • Recite something or read aloud.
    • Hold a conversation.
    • Meditate.
    • Pray.
    • Read a book.
    • Watch television.
    • Play a video game that includes speech and/or text.
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    Listen to a musical "cure." Always choose a song that you enjoy, just in case it replaces the one in your head! Ideally, you'll find a "cure tune" that drives out the old song but doesn't get stuck in your head itself. Most "cure tunes" are specific to one person, but there are a few that turned out to be more popular in one survey:[1] If you hate the idea of listening to these songs, read on for advice on finding your own.
    • God Save the Queen
    • Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
    • Happy Birthday To You
    • The A-Team theme song
    • Kashmir by Led Zeppelin
    • Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel
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    Sing along to a less familiar song. Start with a song that's less likely to get in your head. Avoid "catchy" tunes, and ideally look for something you've only listened to once or twice before. The harder it is to sing along to, the less likely it is to stick.
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    Sing along to a song you know well. If that doesn't work, it's time to bring out the big guns. This cure will often get stuck in your head instead, but hopefully if that happens it will be more pleasant. Here are some types of "sticky" songs:
    • Songs you know well, especially ones associated with nostalgia or a specific memory.[6]
    • Songs that are easy to sing along to. These tend to have notes with long durations, and small changes in pitch.[7] Most pop songs fit this description.
    • Songs with repetition. These include nursery rhymes, songs with repetitive choruses, and, again, most pop songs.
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    Do math problems. You can sometimes break the song's hold with math problems that take all your attention to solve.[8] Try to calculate 8208 ÷ 17, or solve 2 x 2 x 2 x 2... as long as you can.
    • A problem that's too difficult will fail to engage you. Pick something within your range of ability.[9]


  • Try tapping out a different rhythm with your fingertips.
  • Talk really loud to yourself.
  • Listen to white noise. Although the song playing in your head isn't physically generated in your eardrum, the same neurons are affected . White noise ameliorates those neurons.
  • Sing a bunch of different songs like a remix.
  • Listen to a different song. Try something with a different beat or in a different genre.
  • Listen to a movie soundtrack. They're usually long and branch off in a way that avoids repetition.
  • Try to play the song backwards in your head!

Sources and Citations


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Article Info

Categories: Songs and Song Writing