Please shut up the noise in my head
November 20, 2008 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Strangestquestioneverfilter: There’s always music in my head. Make it stop.

I constantly have music looping through my head. First thing in the morning, whenever I get home, when I’m brushing my teeth or sitting somewhere waiting for an appointment. Basically, whenever I’m alone and there’s not a television on or something, I have music playing in my head. It’s not like it’s voices or anything but it’s annoying. Before bed, I try to meditate a bit just to get things quieter in there and help me sleep, but as soon as I’m done meditating, the music comes back. If I happened to be playing a particular song in the car and it’s particularly catchy, the damn thing will not go away, (Note to Duffy: That ‘Mercy’ song? Yeah, cute … but ahhhhh!)
I’ve also tried visualizing myself turning off the I-pod or turning off the car radio and it really doesn’t help.
Please tell me I’m not nuts … and how to make it stop.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You're not nuts - I for one have a mental jukebox that plays almost constantly (luckily it's not very loud). I have friends that used to ask me the last five songs in my head, just for kicks.

I don't know how to turn it off, but it's muted when I'm listening to NPR or the like.
posted by notsnot at 10:06 AM on November 20, 2008

I would try a vacation from the constant music -- don't just visualize yourself turning off the iPod and car radio, do it. I am also thinking there might not be a quick fix, and it might take several weeks of no-music for the conditioning / brainwashing -- I think that's essentially what it amounts to -- to wear off. Good luck.
posted by aught at 10:08 AM on November 20, 2008

Why anonymous? You are just crippling your answers, as now you can't reply.

To the question. You're just thinking about it too much. It's a self fulfilling prophecy. How can you stop thinking about the music when all you are concentrating on is how to stop the music. Find a distraction.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 10:08 AM on November 20, 2008

I read a book for my graduate psychopathology class that noted a similar case. They claimed the person had OCD (look into "Intrusive music"). Might be something to consider.
posted by ginagina at 10:11 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is it actual sound waves you're hearing? I remember there was some kind of condition revolving around that, but I can't remember off the top of my head what it is.

This doesn't sound nuts to me. I have "Never Gonna Give You Up" stuck in my head all the time (only because I got rickrolled so many times), and it's DAMN catchy too. But I just distract myself with other music.

Does this happen when you're concentrating on something (or attempting to), like work or some chore?
posted by curagea at 10:11 AM on November 20, 2008

I have the exact same problem. This is how I got round it.

I picked a song – not a song I'm especially fond of, but one that's catchy and easy to remember. I force myself to switch to that song and because I've been using that one song as my stop mechanism for so long (since the 80s) I can stop paying it any attention and after a while silence comes.
posted by mandal at 10:12 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Large Marge at 10:17 AM on November 20, 2008

I have the same "problem" (which, I believe, does not qualify as a Mental Health Issue - as long as you don't actually hear music that isn't there, that is. Which you probably don't because you describe it as being "in your head"). I like to think it's a sign of an overactive mind rather than approaching madness...

I rarely listen to music, I would say about once every two weeks consciously and otherwise only on TV programs, although I hardly watch TV. So I think it is not a problem of overexposure to "actual" outside music.

It rarely goes away completely, except when I immerse myself in activities which require my complete attention.

I guess it would be satisfactory if you could at least switch the song that is played (say, from Who Let the Dogs Out to Norwegian Wood). I think that learning a musical instrument actively, or learning to sing, can help you with that. In my experience it is rare for a song to keep stuck in your head while you're singing/playing a different (hopefully less annoying) one!
posted by The Toad at 10:40 AM on November 20, 2008

Would a white noise machine or some other distraction (a fan, a little fountain) at night be any help? Depending on what you have going, it'd be like switching the CD from Duffy to some New Age waterfall disc.
posted by sian at 10:42 AM on November 20, 2008

Similar to what mandal suggests, years and years ago I read (I think on Flip Flop Flyin') that Duran Duran's "Rio" is a good song to sing to yourself when you get a song stuck in your head. It dislodges the earworm, and for some reason doesn't stick in your head. But this might be one of those "stand on your head to cure hiccups"-type folk remedies, and YMMV.

The Wikipedia page on earworms suggests that anti-anxiety/OCD medication might be helpful, which might be something to consider if this is a constant annoyance.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:43 AM on November 20, 2008

I have this too, I don't know if there's a good cure for it, just temporary solutions. A few things:

-Sometimes I'll put on ambient / avant-garde / free jazz / drone music. The more abstract something is, the less of the ear-worm effect.

-I've chosen to see this not as an annoyance, but just something quirky my brain does. Maybe it's even a gift.

-My brain music usually shuts up after a good workout at the gym. YMMV.
posted by naju at 10:46 AM on November 20, 2008

A friend of mine pointed out that the songs that get stuck in our heads are often our subconcious trying to tell us something. (Especially if it's just a line or two that repeats over and over again.) I've actually had some success since then in dislodging earwoms just by paying attention to what it is that the song's saying and thinking about how it applies to my current situation. Might be worth giving that a try.
posted by MsMolly at 10:52 AM on November 20, 2008

The above-linked Wikipedia entry suggests a website (I haven't tried it, so click at your own risk):

"Maim That Tune -- a website that offers alternative tunes which, albeit annoying, are likely to drive any other tune from the victim's head."
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:53 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

The simplest solution might be to just listen to the whole song straight through, rather than trying to suppress it.
posted by TravellingDen at 11:00 AM on November 20, 2008

Seconding Mandal. For one thing, no, of course you're not crazy. I too have a constant jukebox going on in my head, though I don't see it as a problem, thankfully. Still, yeah, choose an innocuous "stop song" once you find a song that you don't particularly love or hate, and which palate-cleanses your jukebox (you'll know what we mean once you find it.)

For me (and I've been doing this to get annoying songs out of my head since about '95) the song has always been "Violet," by Hole - a song I don't love by any means, but which doesn't irritate me either. As soon as I think about it, though, I forget what was stuck in my head before hand.

Good luck!
posted by Navelgazer at 11:01 AM on November 20, 2008

I pretty much have music in my head all of the time as well. It isn't a big deal for me, but if it is bothering you, I'd concentrate on the music as much as I could for a time, and then think about shutting it off. But I would mainly focus on the music for a while.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:03 AM on November 20, 2008

I have this. Sometimes I can control it, sometimes not. Something that makes it more tolerable is using it to my advantage, listening to a song (poem, monologue, entire opera, whatever) I actually want to learn a few times until it's the one that embeds itself in my brain. By the end of a day or two I know it by heart without much effort at all. It can be a little less annoying when you treat it like a talent.

Oh, and for falling asleep, a softly-playing CD of relaxing music without words or words that aren't in your language is sometimes the only thing that'll work. For a couple of years I went to sleep listening to Rachmaninoff's Vespers every single night. The ritual worked and it really improved my Russian.
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:05 AM on November 20, 2008

I'm going to give a slightly counterintuitive answer:

Learn how to write/play music.

You don't say in your post, but I'm guessing you're not a musician. Your brain likes music, but doesn't know what to do with it, so all it can do is loop it.

I'm not saying music people don't get songs stuck in their heads. But at least with me it's usually a song I like. If it's really bugging me, I'll learn how to play it at the piano, maybe improvise off it a little bit, try and figure out what the kernel is that makes it so damn catchy. Before I know it, my brain has moved on, because it's focused on the song's component parts, and not the song itself.

In rare cases, I have to do an electropop cover.

(YMMV. If this is the answer that drives you into madness, please don't sue!)
posted by speicus at 11:08 AM on November 20, 2008

n'thing that lots of people "suffer" from this. Especially with earworms, but for me it's not just catchy stuff, and often has no explanation.

I usually like to sing along, often changing the lyrics to reflect what I'm doing. Headphones+Music helps at least put you in control of what's in your head, it at least drowns out the other songs for me.

I find that singing the jingle to Rice-A-Roni gets the stuck songs that won't go away out of my head.
posted by togdon at 11:08 AM on November 20, 2008

speicus – this is only anecdotal, but I've been playing music since infancy, that's really not the issue for me. And it's not like a conventional definition of an earworm either, I have a variety of music on my internal playlist and it changes throughout the day – like having a radio on all the time but without any annoying DJ links. Most of the time I quite like it, but sometimes I want to turn it off.


I confess: I use It's Raining Men by the Weather Girls. Have done since the early 80s.

posted by mandal at 11:24 AM on November 20, 2008

In everything I've heard about quieting down the "monkey brain", which is what those who meditate sometimes call the crazy thoughts that pop up in your brain when your'e trying to think about something else, none of them involve actually trying to stop it. Instead, they just involve just letting it happen, just letting those random thoughts or songs or whatever just exist in your head and the rest of your brain just tells it "yep, okay, I see you," and then goes back to the things it was trying to concentrate on. It's a different approach -- you're still letting whatever wiggly impulse in your consciousness do its thing, it's just that the rest of your brain is over across the room doing its thing.

So maybe visualizing trying to turn off the jukebox is counterproductive, because it's making your "monkey brain dj" (I just made that term up, heh) all the more determined. Maybe just letting it be is the answer -- if the song pops into your head just go "okay, there's a song there," and continuing to think about whatever it is you were trying to think about.

As for my own "song stuck in my head" solvent, I've found Low Rider works admirably well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:29 AM on November 20, 2008

Oh, mine plays constantly. I listen to music fairly often, and whatever I've been listening to on repeat lately will usually be the song of the day. I don't usually mind it, often I find myself singing along, though sometimes stuff sticks around - off and on - for an unusually long time. I've had this stuck in my head since two weeks before the election.
As for suggestions, check out this short Radiolab episode about earworms; for musings on the subject, here's an episode about why it happens and some extreme cases.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:31 AM on November 20, 2008

I've got this too, though the music doesn't play all the time for me. I'll be working on some task or walking along and realize that for the past 10 minutes my actions have had a soundtrack.

Every song reference in this thread is kicking off the autoplay mechanism (please, no more titles or artist names in this thread). I don't have a solution except to work on accepting your own personal iPod. oh dear, there it goes again
posted by zippy at 11:36 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had this problem as well. It really helped for me to start paying attention to all the "non-music" sound around me, giving it the same level of attention I would intentional sound.
posted by phrontist at 11:46 AM on November 20, 2008

Monkey brain. I love that.
I have a 12 minute live recorded (not looped) thunderstorm on my IPod. It really helps drive out the head music.
posted by Pennyblack at 12:08 PM on November 20, 2008

Lots of these answers are about dislodging the catchy songs, but what the OP wants -- and god do I want it too -- is to bring on the silence, not replace it with a stop song. It's been quiet in my head for about ten minutes, once, years ago.
posted by bonaldi at 12:14 PM on November 20, 2008

Now playing: Rio. Great.
posted by bonaldi at 12:16 PM on November 20, 2008

I get this sometimes. It helps me to slow the music way way down. Focus intently on it. Make it play slower and sloowwwerrrr. That seems to make it go away.
posted by PatoPata at 12:18 PM on November 20, 2008

I have the same thing. I deal with it by being a musician and writing music, so if I have a song in my head that I don't like, I just switch it by making it change into a new composition of some kind. It really never stops, though. Right now it's the Nestle Crunch jingle from years ago. Ugh.
posted by The World Famous at 12:24 PM on November 20, 2008

I take the piece of music, analyze it, deconstruct it, remix it, etc. All in my head. When the music is there, you might as well enjoy it. As mentioned above, it sometimes morphs into a new composition, which is cool.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 1:02 PM on November 20, 2008

You're not nuts; this is an old phenomenon--see "A Literary Nightmare" (aka "Punch, Brothers, Punch").

When it gets Riolly bad for me, I find that the method Empress mentions above most useful. Acknowledge your inner DJ: "she dances on the sand, you say? what was her name again?" Sometimes it seems the monkey mind just needs some validation and if you give it a little attention (and don't fight it) the song will fade itself out.
posted by fidelity at 1:32 PM on November 20, 2008

I always get the last incomplete song I heard on my ipod looping through my head. If the song finishes and I then turn my ipod off I then get the next song on the album playing in my head automatically. I rarely get annoyed by constant music in my head, but I find that doing maths problems in my head usually stops them.
posted by robotot at 1:40 PM on November 20, 2008

Usually I enjoy this, especially when it's music I've never heard before and/or I'm able to crank it up incredibly loud and go all Hendrix with it, but occasionally it does give me the shits. To turn it off, I will generally start singing Monty Python's "I like traffic lights" song quietly to myself until it gives up and goes away.
posted by flabdablet at 3:22 PM on November 20, 2008

Sorry, you're nuts. Or at least I was nuts when it happened to me.

Yeah, I know everyone always has a tune running through their head, but if you're going through what I was a few years ago it's so much worse than that. I couldn't stop thinking about a certain song, ALL THE TIME, to the point that I would have hurt the songwriter if I had had a chance (and that's not hyperbole). I felt like I was going insane.

This was when I had untreated postpartum depression. I started taking Zoloft for the PPD, and it got rid of the song, too.

If it's so bad that you're losing sleep, go talk to your doctor.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:24 PM on November 20, 2008

A friend of mine pointed out that the songs that get stuck in our heads are often our subconcious trying to tell us something.

I sincerely hope this is not the case, because I really don't want to know what my subconscious was saying the morning I woke up to the refrain from "The Electric Slide"
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:26 PM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you hear music constantly playing in the background or if everyday sounds resolve theselves into music, you may have a form of tinnitus.

(A friend who has this says that her laptop fan sounds like violins playing. So it can sometimes be cool as well as annoying.)

The Duffy thing means you're probably suffering from earworms, but earworms and tinnitus aren't mutually exlusive. See your doctor and get your ears checked out.
posted by the latin mouse at 4:37 PM on November 20, 2008

oh, no, I just started reading this.. there it goes again!! something playing in my brain that won't go away! thanks a lot :)
posted by citron at 4:40 PM on November 20, 2008

I was going to mention the Radiolab episode that "you're a kitty!" mentioned above. In lieu, here's another radiolab page on the subject which offers some additional suggestions:
posted by joquarky at 11:51 PM on November 20, 2008

How is your hearing? Musical hallucinations are associated with hearing loss.

And Hanson's Mmm-bop is my earworm killer.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 1:54 AM on November 21, 2008

I suffer from this problem constantly - for about the last month it's been various songs from Steely Dan's Aja and more recently Wichita Lineman (of various versions!).

I have two remedies which are worth a try:

The first sounds ridiculous, but has been confirmed to work by a number of friends.

1. To relieve the immediate symptoms try singing / thinking "I Should be so Lucky" by Kylie Minogue in your head. It was a massive hit in the UK (not sure if it's known in the US) - it's really annoying and sounds like it should be really catchy, but, for some reason, it just doesn't get stuck (I hope!) in your head, and seems to purge your mind of whatever other tune is stuck in there.

This technique definitely works for me, but I always forget to use it....

2. Stopping listening to music altogether does seem to be the most effective trick, but obviously has the major drawback of not being able to listen to music. I would always suggest BBC Radio 4 for non-music related listening matter.

Hope you get some relief!
posted by mairuzu at 5:09 AM on November 21, 2008

I've had Fur Elise and more often "My Favorite Things" stuck in my head for decades now. It's irritating to say the least. I get other songs now and then. My brain seems to dedicate a large thread to keeping the music going all day. It gets quieter when I am highly focused on other things. But sometimes that's hard when the music is dominant over the task at hand. Often there will be more than one song going at once. They compete for which one is louder in my thoughts.

I also have tried meditation and I can definitely switch the song(s) off. But it keeps cutting back in and I have to really practice to keep letting it go and not fueling it.

I do consider this a problem for myself. I think it robs my mind of being more fully available for useful things. I once was "being mindful" in the shower in a sort of meditative way, and I startled myself to notice that my mind was creating scrubbing sounds to accompany the actual sounds of scrubbing. It was almost like there was someone else in the room. I also occasionally get random sounds or even statements that loudly and almost realistically present themselves while I'm trying to go to sleep. I know they can't be real sounds, but they are almost dreamlike in the closeness to reality.

I mention those things because I don't think the song in the head is just an isolated thing. I think it's an indication of the mind fragmenting and "working" on things somewhat consciously that are not under conscious control. It's like breathing isn't enough to work on, so it sings a song too. You can stop it when you want, but next thing you know you are breathing again.

So, nthing that it's a common enough thing. I think you are on the right track with meditation. It may be a temporary fix for now. But it likely holds the key to more permanent control. If you can recapture that fragment, I'd love to know how you did it.
posted by davathar at 10:53 PM on November 23, 2008

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