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Why do some songs become earworms?

6 Feb

Earworms are those annoying songs that can’t get out of your head. A more technical name for this phenomenon is Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI).

A recent paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts investigates the common melodic features of earworms:

The results of the present work indicate that features of a song’s
melodic structure, as well as measures of its popularity and recency,
can be useful in predicting whether a song becomes INMI.
These findings contribute to the growing literature on the INMI
experience and serve to increase our general understanding of why
certain songs are spontaneously recalled in the mind over others.

In sum, tunes that become INMI tend to be faster in tempo than
non-INMI tunes. If the melodic contour shape of a melody is
highly congruent with established norms, then it is more likely for
the tune to become INMI. If the melodic contour does not conform
with norms, then it should have a highly unusual pattern of contour
rises and falls to become an INMI tune.

The paper includes this helpful list of the most common earworms:

(1) “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga

(2) “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie Minogue

(3) “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey

(4) “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye

(5) “Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon

(6) “California Gurls,” Katy Perry

(7) “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen

(8) “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga

(9) “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

A very happy holiday to everyone.

25 Dec

These guys are great:

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the Theremin

30 Sep

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

Flying back from Chicago today

30 May

Ravi Shankar’s 96th birthday

7 Apr

Today’s Google Doodle reminds me that today is the birthday of the  incomparable Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar:

‘Today we celebrate Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was born 96 years ago today. Shankar evangelized the use of Indian instruments in Western music, introducing the atmospheric hum of the sitar to audiences worldwide. He performed frequently with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and composed a concerto with sitar for the London Symphony Orchestra. Shankar also taught George Harrison of the Beatles how to play the sitar, and widely influenced popular music in the 1960s and 70s.

Shankar’s music popularized the fundamentals of Indian music, including raga, a melodic form. Raga, as Shankar explained, has “its own peculiar ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven-note octave, or a series of six or five notes in a rising or falling structure.” The distinctive character of Shankar’s compositions attracted the attention of composer Philip Glass, with whom Shankar wrote the 1990 album Passages.’

Here is some amazing footage of his performance at Woodstock.

Philip Glass and the development of genius

4 Apr

I often find books by creative people disappointing. Strangely, those who excel in their work often seem inarticulate when it comes to explaining their own genius. For me, Charlie Chaplin is the paradigmatic case. An incomparable genius on the screen, yet his autobiography gives little insight into his talent.

But this is not the case with Words Without Music by Philip Glass. His account of his development as a musician is fascinating. I only wish I knew more about music and music theory. I was particularly interested in his encounters with yoga and Indian music.

 

Reminiscence bumps in popular music

4 Dec

The reminiscence bump is the phenomenon of the superior memory we have for events in late adolescence and the early twenties. Here is a chart showing our memory for different periods of life:

Lifespan_Retrieval_Curve

 

 

I came across this interesting paper about reminiscence bumps in popular music. Here is the abstract:

“Autobiographical memories are disproportionately recalled for events in late adolescence and early adulthood, a phenomenon called the reminiscence bump. Previous studies on music have found autobiographical memories and life-long preferences for music from this period. In the present study, we probed young adults’ personal memories associated with top hits over 5-and-a-half decades, as well as the context of their memories and their recognition of, preference for, quality judgments of, and emotional reactions to that music. All these measures showed the typical increase for music released during the two decades of their lives. Unexpectedly, we found that the same measures peaked for the music of participants’ parents’ generation. This finding points to the impact of music in childhood and suggests that these results reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment. An earlier peak occurred for 1960s music, which may be explained by its quality or by its transmission through two generations. We refer to this pattern of musical cultural transmission over generations as cascading reminiscence bumps.”

 

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