Can't turn off internal soundtrack and it's distracting..HALP
July 29, 2013 6:37 AM   Subscribe

For the past 24 hours or so I have been unable to turn off my internal mental soundtrack (that is my library of remembered songs, in playback mode, just as if I was hearing them now). It's starting to make me tired. I can change the music playing (currently 'smooth operator') but I can't turn it off entirely. I had a lot of trouble falling asleep last night b/c of the music playing in my head. And today at work it's distracting me. The default song seems to be 'Blurred Lines' but the playback isn't limited to just that tune. Has this ever happened to you? How did you stop it?

Also this made me realize that I can conjure up audio and visual snippets from memory, and even touch, but I can't conjure up scents without a current sample in front of me to trigger the memory. That is to say I can't make myself suddenly remember the smell of coconut as if I was smelling it right now even though I love it; I can't do anything to smell the smell in absence of coconut substance being put in front of me. However i can make myself hear playback of a song, exactly in the artist's voice, just as if I was listening to it. That is odd. I wonder why that is. Do you happen to know why that is?
posted by TestamentToGrace to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Think about maths problems. Seriously. Don't ask me why but running through some maths (or basic algebra in my head) always clears it for me.

Don't know if the the two activities use the same brainspace or something.
posted by garius at 6:43 AM on July 29, 2013

This happens to me all the time. Usually, I wake up at around 3:30 AM, and I have some dumb tune coursing through my brain and it's distracting and horrible.

It's said that "Low Rider" is a great song to get earworms out of your head.

I find that this is a way that my brain deals wtih anxiety. It happens a lot, lot less now that I take Celexa.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:44 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try singing the song out loud, beginning to end. I've heard that can help.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:46 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a really, really common thing. You know how people complain about getting songs "stuck in their head" or they talk about "earworms"? This is exactly what they're talking about.

There may actually be a scientific basis for why songs get stuck in our heads, or why we are able to recall music so strongly (and research shows that nearly everyone has strong music recall). You may want to read Oliver Sacks' book Musicophilia for the neuroscience behind it, as well.

As for getting a song out of your head that's stuck, I indeed swear by "Low Rider," listed above. I once saw someone call it "the universal solvent for shit stuck in your head".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:50 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Man, this is super annoying. You can try an erasee song as mentioned above, but I would also recommend cutting out caffeine for a little while- say a day or two- and seeing if that helps.
posted by windykites at 6:59 AM on July 29, 2013

Check out meditative breathing techniques. The need to focus on your breathing for periods of time will help distract you from the music.

Don't fret over struggling with this, it's very common.

Also seconding the caffeine idea and this is coming from a man who could write a love letter to caffeine.
posted by unixrat at 7:08 AM on July 29, 2013

I have this all the time, including in my sleep, annoying! So I don't know if the fact that it just happened to you suddenly has any significance, but I can tell you what makes it go away temporarily: listen to actual music. If you can't concentrate while listening to lyrics, try music in a language you don't speak, or something instrumental. It's hard to have a song stuck in your head if you're listening to another song. And it's easier to ignore outside music (that's just background noise) than music that's coming from inside your mind.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:10 AM on July 29, 2013

Update: I played LowRider as per the suggestions and the music marches on, but now it's limited to LowRider on repeat. I'm trying to think of some math problem I could do to get rid of LowRider now. :/

Also, I don't drink any caffeinated beverages (or take any drugs) so cutting out caffeine is not an option. Thanks!
posted by TestamentToGrace at 7:10 AM on July 29, 2013

Count factors of 2 (2^1 = 2, 2^2 = 4, 2^3 = 8, etc)

Count up or down by sevens

Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc)
posted by supercres at 7:13 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

At night, maybe you could try white-noise (or ocean waves, or a thunderstorm, etc?) Sometimes having that external stimulation can quiet the songs in my head (and my mild tinnitus).

During the day, I usually have music on to listen to, so that I don't go crazy with Taylor Swift being on repeat in my head.

"We are never, ever, ever...", /me shakes fist at absquatu-hubby.
posted by absquatulate at 7:15 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am prone to earworms, too. I have a couple 'relaxing' songs that I can intentionally turn on when I need to soothe or distract myself. Or I listen to some gentle jazz or classical music.
posted by gnutron at 7:26 AM on July 29, 2013

Seconding white noise. Give your brain something else to listen to. I have an android app called "Relax Melodies" that has a lot of different sounds that will play continuously. It is pretty good, I listen to it all day at work. Personally I like the rain ones and the slow waves.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:34 AM on July 29, 2013

I've found when I have a song in my head, I let it run for a short time and then pick a note and just hold it (mentally, of course) for as long as possible. Eventually my mind gets bored with that tone and moves on. And if I feel it starting to come back, I can switch instead to that tone and it stops again.
posted by fishmasta at 7:54 AM on July 29, 2013

My solution is to turn on the stereo (or ipod or whatever) and play the song that's stuck in my head over and over until I can't take it or until something else distracts me.
posted by gjc at 7:56 AM on July 29, 2013

supercres: "Count factors of 2 (2^1 = 2, 2^2 = 4, 2^3 = 8, etc)

Count up or down by sevens

Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc)

For me it's counting by prime numbers.
posted by jquinby at 7:58 AM on July 29, 2013

Do you know what might have triggered this? I mean, if it's not a normal condition for you, something must have started this, no? Maybe you'll find that you actually listened to some of the songs while not noticing, like, in the store or somewhere.

I'm a little hesitant with predictions, 'cause music is going on in my head all the time, since childhood. But only if I previously have confronted myself with some piece/song really intensely, it sometimes becomes ear-wormy. For me, this does wear off after a few days of non-exposure, though, so you likely will be fine.

Maybe listen to a piano concerto by Bartók or something else Modern Classical with a lot of disjointed melodical snippets that are difficult to memorize....

Or you could maybe imagine a bunch of muppets or minions or spiders dancing to your song. Try to dissipate your focus a little.

[fwiw smells work differently, I've read. It is correct that you can't evoke the smell itself in your mind - only the sensation that you had when smelling it. Try coffee and vanilla. Don't work.
Music on the other hand - all the time, yes.]
posted by Namlit at 8:07 AM on July 29, 2013

The cure for any earworm is childhood memory cartoon theme songs. Unfortunately there is not yet a cure for earworming via cartoon theme songs so get used to humming Scooby-Doo.

More seriously for me this went on for the better part of a year and I am pretty sure it had something to do with my ritalin.
posted by elizardbits at 8:09 AM on July 29, 2013

I've found that when this happens to me, the song in my head is one to which I don't know all the lyrics or only know part (the most ear-wormy part) of the song. I look up the lyrics, learn them by heart, and then never have that song stuck in my head again. Sometimes I'll have to do this for about five songs in a row before my mind doesn't just grab hold of a new song and leaves me in peace.

And now I have to go look up all the lyrics to "Blurred Lines."
posted by pineappleheart at 9:11 AM on July 29, 2013

Do some anagrams.
posted by donpardo at 9:15 AM on July 29, 2013

My earworm removal technique is to listen to this. Something about the stop and start nature of the tune helps.

I have a habit of counting everything I am doing in my head (steps, keystrokes, mouseclicks) I find the best way to break it is to sit and watch TV (or that Lisa Loeb song) something dialogue heavy helps to break up the flow. West Wing is great for this. I turn on a podcast or NPR if I need to get work done, it's hard to keep something flowing if I am following a conversation.
posted by wwax at 9:35 AM on July 29, 2013

I get earworms quite often. They aren't even always songs; I get dialogue from Mickey's Christmas Carol stuck in my head, and old commercials, stuff like that. It's alternately pleasant and maddening, depending on my mood and the snippet in my head.

I also have OCD and sometimes get irrational but unshakeable anxiety. Earworms happen to everyone and usually have nothing to do with anxiety or OCD, but I wouldn't be surprised if it made me more earworm-susceptible. And I've found that the common thread between them all - intrusive thoughts, baseless fears, and Snoop Dogg on perpetual repeat - is that they're usually signs that my brain's looking for something to do.

Anything that's moderately absorbing and non-repetitive can be a good earworm antidote. Reading a story or article is usually good. For extra effectiveness, read things out loud under your breath; this slows you down, plus it's close to impossible to focus on two voices at once, so the reading voice wins.

And if you ever want to harness your earworm powers for good, try memorizing mnemonic poems or educational songs or interesting Shakespeare passages or something. I remember facts forever if they're in rhyme.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:13 AM on July 29, 2013

Ah, earworms, how I despise thee!

I'm extremely susceptible to earworms so I have devised a few strategies that (like hiccup remedies) sometimes will work.

Like many have suggested here, white/pink/brown noise can help (I find pink/brown more helpful than white). As does listening to music in a completely different genre (for instance, got hip-hop stuck in your head? try to decant it with classical; got vocals in your head, try countering with instrumentals). I haven't had luck with playing a song through before but that technique might help you. Listening to an audio book or podcast or some form of talk radio can help sometimes, as can deliberately reading aloud (don't read rhyming poetry, though!). Listening to music in a language you don't speak can help, too. Finally, listening to environmental soundtracks (waves, rain, thunder, bird calls, humpback whales, etc.) can often jar loose the sound loop.

Eventually, the earworm will dissipate with time, unfortunately sometimes it's a loooong time (I've had earworms last several weeks--like I said, I'm *really* susceptible!).

Anyway, I find that gram of prevention is worth ten pounds of cure, though, so I avoid listening to any song or album more than twice in a row (especially my 'favorites'!); I'm careful to switch up genres frequently and avoid mainlining songs from genres that are too similar; I don't listen to music first thing in the morning (that's a guaranteed earworm) and I don't listen to music right before bed.

Not sure if any of that will help you but....good luck!
posted by skye.dancer at 10:23 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

In meditation or while trying to fall asleep, I deal with earworms by mentally repeating part of the song over and over while slowing it down, decreasing the length of the fragment (going from just the chorus, to just a line, to just a single word) and going slower and slower, until I'm only hearing one note, first over and over and over, then just that same note, droning on and on. Then it stops being a song, and I can turn my attention away from it.

This method requires intense concentration, though.
posted by BrashTech at 10:27 AM on July 29, 2013

This is me. All the time. Forever. Even the mention of a song title queues a particularly memorable segment of that song in my head until something else overrides it. My tactic involves sleeping with a noisy fan and listening to a lot of interesting but not quite melodic ambient and noise music. The Hearts of Space public radio show is a good place to start with that. Also, avoiding pop radio can help a lot. (I try but the mall I work in is constantly blaring earworms.) Good luck!
posted by sleeping bear at 11:44 AM on July 29, 2013

The only thing that makes the radio station in my head go quiet at night is listening to audioboks. Sometimes white noise and an audiobook. The closer I get to unconsciousness, the louder the music gets if there is no external stimulus.
posted by monopas at 4:55 PM on July 29, 2013

yea, I was just going to say audiobooks - when I need to make my brain shut up and get some sleep already, I put on an audiobook that I have listened to or read before. Do you have a book that's an old favorite? get it as an audiobook, and play it so that it's just audible if you lay nice and still. Turn out the lights, get under the covers, and get some zzzzzs
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:58 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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