Hearing management

Updated 11 December 2017

Earworms: Let it go

It happens to all of us at some stage where we get a song stuck in our head that won’t stop. It’s called an earworm.


The Health24 team decided that the most popular earworms for them was the hit song from Frozen – “Let It Go” – that probably drove many mothers (and fathers) crazy. Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” followed as a close second. We found out exactly what an earworm is and give you five of the more common ones.  

Basic formula

Believe it or not there is an actual formula that exists to determine what songs are likely to become earworms. According to researcher Bede Williams an earworm needs just five key components: surprise, predictability, rhythmic repetition, melodic potency and receptiveness. And from those key components a formula was devised by the University of St Andrews to determine a song’s “earworm-liness”: receptiveness + (predictability-surprise) + (melodic potency) + (rhythmic repetition x 1.5) = earworm.

Other factors include popularity of the song: “We found out that songs that had more recently been in the UK music charts and had reached higher chart positions and had been in the charts for longer – all of those things predicted how often a song was named as an earworm,” said Kelly Jakubowski, music psychologist at Durham University in the UK.

Read: How to eradicate 'earworms'

1.  Let it go

2.  Never gonna let you go by Rick Astley

3.  Poker Face by Lady Gaga

4.  Jingle Bells

5.  We Are The Champions by Queen

Read: Youth risk hearing loss due to loud music

So, how do you let it go?

"A lot of the time, people get the song stuck because they don't remember how it ends," says Jakubowski. If you find yourself with an earworm, try listening to the entire song. You can also listen to a different song to try and distract your mind or just force yourself to stop thinking about it.

Read more:

FDA approves balloon device to clear Eustachian tube

Antibiotic gel – future treatment for kids' ear infections?

Is it bad to sleep with earplugs all the time?


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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