The infectious earworm

By Soumil Zachariah ‘21

Staff Writer


have a friend; constantly, he is humming to Christmas music in the summer, mainstream music that I swore no one would ever enjoy, or, occasionally, a song or two that I can stand. However, I cannot count the number of times his humming has affected my day-to-day wellbeing. From the FaceTime calls where I listen to him humming away while I help him with his homework, to the middle of Chemistry class as we learned about Polyatomic ions, the repetition of the lack-luster tone quality of his voice drives my brain into agony.

Sadly, this behavior is not uncommon: in a Vox Creative article, Dr. Kelly Jakubowski finds that the repetition of new music historically depicts human tendencies towards works that have “upbeat, predictable melodies, and include a surprising twist inside that melody,” which can be connected to older epics such as Homer’s “Odyssey” that have similar twists and predictability from constant retelling and modification.

In fact, in 2018, news journalist of CBS Ashley Welch corroborates that psychologists have discovered an “extremely common phenomenon” known as earworms. The earworm phenomenon easily connects to similarly imprinted tunes that have generic backings; this may be why songwriters such as Sam Smith have been caught using similar tunes from their past in their present music.

Unsurprisingly, artists from both the present and past employ aspects of psychological effects in music to evoke emotion and remembrance from their work. This concept is exemplified through “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Mozart’s utilization of melodies that rise and fall to depict emotional presence while maintaining a steady, repetitive rhythm, created a repetitive and a pivotal basis in future music.

As a matter of fact, Maroon 5 forms the same type of rhythm and rise and fall in “Moves Like Jagger.” Via their use of tested works, Maroon 5 used the knowledge of the audience’s love for predictability and created a new repetitive pop hit.

As the holiday season closes in, remember that although our loved ones and friends are truly annoying and terrible through their off-pitch hums and whistles, they represent a key continuity of human society that evokes storytelling to push the future.

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