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Classical 101

Earworms Abound in Classical Music

Boyce Lancaster

It happens when you least expect it. Something you hear on the radio, at a friend's house, in a shop, walking down the street...that melody you just can't seem to get out of your head.

This is variously described in one online dictionary as "musical imagery repetition", "involuntary musical imagery", and "stuck song syndrome."

Simply put...you have an earworm.

Some call it a blessing, as they are determined to find out what that tune is and let it roll over and over in their heads. Others would say it's a curse, waking up at 3:00am, only to hear that music again and again. On the Big Bang Theory, it was both blessing AND curse. It just depended upon whom you asked.


I have fallen victim to the incessant musical phrase running through my head, though it's generally something I already know. It only becomes annoying when it remains stuck for days and becomes the first think I hear when I wake up.

For writer Hailey Colwell, her earworm started when she was seven. The music accompanied an elementary-school play she was in. Her account of a 15-year search for the tune's illusive title is a great read.

(The Mystery of the Missing Melody)

A few years ago, NPR's Talk of the Nation took a look at the research being done (yes, someone got a research grant for this) to better understand what happens, why, and various "cures" for the malady.

The Today Show Health and Wellness website offers this advice.

Earworm? This one simple trick will get rid of it.

The one thing I have never been able to do is choose my earworm. If I could do that, life would be just fine. Kind of like picking a ringtone, you could pick an appropriate tune and change it at will. Unfortunately, it seems to be a completely random event over which we have no control.

So whether yours is a Rossini original...


...or a cover version...


I hope it's something you like.