Not strictly harpsichord-related.
I occasionally experience earworms, those small bits of music which make their way into one’s brain and memory and keep playing on and on without you being able to stop them. This is a well-known phenomenon both in musicians and listeners. I mostly experience it when practicing hard. I used to experience it much more when I was younger. About 15 or 20 year ago I read “Musicophilia”, the book by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, which has a chapter on earworms and found it was not just me.

As earworms can be very annoying, there is somebody who studies them, and they discovered (or: hypothesized) that chewing a chewing gum can interfere with the development of earworms. Weird, but then do what you want with this information.
A bit of sources:


So the question is why do some people get this and others not. I have never suffered from it. A fascinating topic.

There’s a related problem which is tinnitus, resulting from damage to the hearing system. Many people find effective treatment with CBT - cognitive behaviour therapy. Some people find white noise generators helpful - a signal that distracts the brain at all frequencies - and helps lots of people sleep.

Mentions gum.

This article says 98% of people get it. Since I don’t that puts me in a small and strange minority. Fascinating.

Maybe those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. The way how the questions are made could induce people to respond affirmatively.

However there is this sentence in a footnote of the wikipedia article:

Of the 1,000 respondents, the kind of music respondents said they got stuck on most recently were songs with lyrics for 73.7 percent, jingles or ads for 18.6 percent and an instrumental tune for 7.7 percent.

Well, it’s not a surprise. People - I mean the general population - aren’t exposed at all to instrumental music, only to pop/rock songs. People is then much exposed to jingles and ads, and only the musicians are exposed to instrumental music (not even for the majority, as classical music has an overwhelming quantity of vocal music: opera, mass, motets, oratorios, madrigals, etc.).

Earworms can be very annoying, you Andrew are lucky in never having had one.
(I find absolute ear only a bit less annoying, and find it irritating when I read on newspapers or listen in tv shows someone saying something on the lines “oh, he/she is a so talented musician, he has the veeeeeery rare gift of an absolute ear!”)

I have had this “problem” for as long as I can recall. It doesnt worry me at all and I regard it as a tribute to the work in question. Among other times, it occurs when I am studying a piece of music intensively. The answer is to ignore it, or deliberately sing a different tune repeatedly in order to “change the record”. I recommend Alford’s Colonel Bogey march (with or without the words!) as an antidote. :grinning:


I have earworms also, luckily they go after a few days and I spend one or two weeks without them.
Quite often I wake up early and I stay in bed, eyes closed, while I “play” some of the pieces I know by heart, e.g. any of the Brandenburg Concertos or Beethoven piano concertos or Mozart solo clarinet works. Only at the end of the work I feel well enough to get up to live my comfortable retired life. :slight_smile:

I wonder if people in historical times suffered from this or if it is a modern malady resulting from the continuous bombardment of media we experience all day and night.

I suspect is is not modern. For many years now I hardly listen to any records. Yet I keep having earworms, and they are mostly not harpsichord music but instrumental: my favourite records I heard and music I played as a young man … sorry, I mean a younger man! :slight_smile:

As a teenager I listened constantly to Caruso’s recordings. Sixty years later, if I even think of the first phrase of a Verdi or Puccini aria, it will play in my head for days. I can stop it if I catch it early by imagining a cantabile Soler sonata,such as R. 18 in c minor, something even paced with a canonic response into clear harmonic development. If the Soler becomes an earworm, it is mild, even calming.

I am sure it is not a modern malady. I have had it since the 1950s and have never, ever, been continuously bombarded by media. I have always valued silence around me, dont watch tv, and only occasionally listen to radio in the car.


I feel I have seen a reference to the phenomenon in a historical source:
Roger North?

Even in the old days, weren’t people bombarded with media in the form of live music? Town musicians, public concerts, marching bands, etc…

Certainly from the 16th century on (but certainly also earlier), people in European towns could be annoyed by mendicant musicians who would keep harping on, whether one wanted their services or not. Consider the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition of “Earworm” documented since 1598: earworm, n.¹ "A catchy tune, piece of music, or (occasionally) phrase which persistently stays in a person’s mind, esp. to the point of irritation."The older meaning of “earworm” (linked to Ohrwurm in German and older forms in both languages) is the second OED definition: “[…] corn earworm. The larva of either of two noctuid moths of the genus Helicoverpa, H. zea of the New World and H. armigera of the Old World…”, which is think is what we commonly call an earwig, and provides the metaphorical basis for the later musical term. I’m not sure what they say in other languages for irritating tunes and earwigs, or whether other languages make a similar connection.

In Italian it’s “tarlo musicale”, music worm; or “tarlo sonoro”, soundworm; or “tarlo dell’orecchio”, “earworm” (this seems less used than the other two). So yes, the connection between irritating tunes and worms is strong in Italian.