It’s happening again, isn’t it?

You have that one song stuck in your head. You know, either a treasured classic or that one song that the radio and/or general cacophony of everyday life sees fit to play ad infinitum. I apologise dear reader as I’ve played a dastardly psychological trick on you and ask that you forgive my exercising of that bit of the brain that is not so easily quieted. But let me tell you that the average human being spends forty percent of his or her days falling into constant, spontaneous cognitions. As many of you are undoubtedly attesting by the clear sign of how you are tapping your foot along to that one song – at this very moment. The phenomenon is commonly called an ‘ear worm’, yet goes by the technical name of involuntary musical imagery (INMI). Other little tricks have been optimised to really take advantage of the ear worm phenomenon. Various studies in neuroscience have noted the impact of repetition on memory and recall; music definitely benefits from such a nature. Because of this, that one song can become very powerful deep down on the neurological level. 

Repetition in music has been criticised time and again dating back to the late nineteenth century. In 1882, Ferdinand Praeger published a paper ‘On the Fallacy of the Repetition of Parts in the Classical Form’, where he stated that other artists, such as authors, poets, and painters do not repeat in their work out of fear of being labelled the ultimate insult – ‘uncreative’. Yet, music has a nature of repetition. Diana Deutsch advanced this notion through coining the ‘Speech to Song Illusion’ in 1995. While working on mixing her own album she found that through the repetition of words in simple spoken speech, the listener naturally perceived something as more musical. In fact, repetition grooves with our brain’s stimulation patterns. As a song repeats a beat or line of lyrics, the brain lights up in sync with the music’s frequency. Even more interesting is that multiple brains listening to the same song also manage to fire in synchronised rhythms. This explains why different people tend to gain similar feels from a given song over vast differences. So that one song has not only a tremendous power over the individual’s brain, but the masses’ as well. As you head towards your nearest music-making device, you might be tempted to ask, are you pressing play or is the music itself in control of the ‘play’ button.

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