Ten readers' cures for earworms

Woman covering ears

A Magazine feature that explored why some tunes seem to get lodged in your head has got readers thinking about how best to get rid of these sticky songs.

The response to the article earlier this week included some innovative ways to push out the so-called earworm.

Here's a selection of suggestions.

1. The song that gets trapped in my head is usually the last tune I hear before I go to work. The time-worn way to get any tune out of your head is to start singing Simply The Best by Tina Turner. A friend told me about this years ago and it works to make you forget the "trapped" song, but is thin enough a tune itself not to take its place. Graham Holey, London, UK

2. My strategy is to visualise the song I am hearing as a record on a record player (the old-fashioned vinyl type). I then visualise taking the needle off the record by hand, put the tone-arm on its stand and firmly click the locking device shut. As I take the needle off, the song stops. This has taken a while for me to learn how to do it effectively. I replace the song with silence and focus on the sound of my own breathing. Robert Graeme, Llanfairfechan, Wales

3. As an expat here in Singapore, I get even more annoyed when a song from another language gets stuck in my head. I don't know what the words are, nor what they mean. My best cure for "earworm removal" is to try doing outrageous long division in my head. The fact that I want to be able to actually complete the maths problem usually helps. Paula Robinson, Singapore

Vinyl record Does it help to visualise taking the needle off the vinyl?

4. I find that a few choruses of "Mnah, Mnah" by The Muppets kills an earworm instantly... and makes me smile too doo doooo, de doo doo! Phil Keene, Kuwait

5. This is compelling evidence why tunes get stuck. The sound pitch in the simple process of breathing with the mouth open produces two light tones. These tones may be a memorable tune; for instance two in the key of A always makes me silently whistle Yankee Doodle Dandy without knowing I am doing it. Really irritating. To stop it, think of a range of two or three other notes. Right now I come up with B and E which gives me Wagner's Tannhauser overture. The same memory trigger occurs walking in sand dunes when wind plays through reeds. Solutions? Wear ear-muffs when out and don't breath through an open mouth. Richard Schroder, Lincoln, England

6. Having practised daily meditation for 20+ years now, I find I have great control in dispatching unwanted earworms. I am a huge fan of classical music, and most of the undesired earworms I experience are non-classical pop tunes, typically tunes from commercials. I find if I cultivate internal silence and stillness, it's very easy to erase the unwanted earworm and replace it with a beautiful piece of music that I absolutely love having in my head. Mike McGarry, San Francisco, USA

Offending tunes

  • "I have for years had the theme tune to The Addams Family running through my head at various points, normally when I am not thinking about much. It seems to be my mind's 'screen-saver' for when it goes a bit blank." Anthony Woodall, Birmingham, UK
  • "Agadoo is the worst earworm I have." Susie Tweedie, Belfast
  • "The ultimate earworm is Little L by Jamiroquai. Hearing just one bar of this song's chorus will ruin your life for weeks." Jamie Prisk, UK
  • "The film Coogan's Bluff with Clint Eastwood had a party scene with a tune that repeated the phrase "pigeon-toed orange peel". Ever since when decorating, or similar repetitive task, that phrase and tune will posess me." Bob Higson, Hampshire, UK
  • "I've had Engelbert Humperdinck's Please Release Me Let Me Go repeating and repeating in my head several times in my life. The news that he's going to be singing in the Eurovision contest provoked another bout, which I've only just escaped from. I'm a little worried that typing this now will start it off again." Leonard Akehurst, Brazil

7. For a long period of time this has been happening to me. All I can do to stop it is go and take a bath, and then look for somewhere to go. Or call my friends. Then it will vanish. Blessing Pretty, Anambra State, Nigeria

8. Just write the words of the song down backwards and sing the words as written down...

eg. all my loving I will give to you...

would become

lla ym gnivol I lliw evig ot ouy

It confuses the brain which promptly shuts up. William Van Duyn, Halifax, Canada

9. My sister Nina and I call it Onomatomania. There is no particular song that gets stuck. Each time is different, but the most aggravating is when you only know one line of the verse, or when you don't even like the song. The cure we have tried - and this is dangerous so we only use it when desperate - is to start singing New York, New York. That will usually clear out the stuck song, but occasionally takes over like a dictator after a revolution. Melanie Sherman, Vancouver, Canada

10. When this happens to me, I try to sing the song as if I am performing it. I sing it with gusto then do a big finish, hoping that will "finish" it. I simply cannot listen to songs that I know well. One that is particularly bad for me is Copacabana. Judy Tiller, Duluth, USA

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