Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The music in my head

Now that I've complained about non-stop Christmas music, I should probably mention that non-stop music has been a minor issue with me for years and years. The music I'm speaking of is the music in my head.

I'm not talking about the occasional pesky earworm. The music I hear constantly at a low, background level in my brain consists of an ever-changing playlist. All that's been missing is the DJ.

I can't remember when the music started. The first time I ever thought about it, it seemed normal to me, so I must have been hearing it for years by then. Frankly, I enjoyed it, except for a brief period in the mid-'70s. That's when we were in New York, and the company I worked for decided to pipe in elevator music at a background-noise level that couldn't overpower the music my brain was playing. It was as if I were standing between two radios tuned in to different stations, and it drove me nuts. Fortunately, my co-workers didn't like the piped-in music either, and the company didn't keep it long.

With that exception, the music in my brain always receded if I was listening to other music or engaged in really stimulating conversation, but even under those circumstances, I could instantly tune it in if I thought about it. And most of the time, whether I was reading, chatting, working, writing this blog, whatever, the music was always there.

I'd hear other people talk about songs "getting stuck" in their heads, so I thought for years that everybody's brain played music like mine. I was probably in my 40s when I casually mentioned it to a couple of people, and they had no idea what I was talking about. From then on, curious, I'd ask others about it from time to time, trying to find someone else who had the same experience. No one ever admitted it.

Then came the Internet. One of the first things I ever Googled was "music in my head." There were lots of hits, most of which didn't refer to the condition I was exploring, but I did find a few people who described the same phenomenon. So far, I haven't found a name or a reason for it, but my most recent online search turned up some speculation that it might be related to a type of attention deficit disorder. Hmm. That's a possibility, I suppose.

At any rate, I was prompted to write about this because of a couple of things that have happened recently. First, I noticed earlier in the week that there's been a slight change: The music is no longer there all the time, and when it is there, I can stop it if I want. Or not, if I happen to like the song that's playing. I can't imagine why it's changed, but I think I'm going to enjoy the quiet.

And today, driving to work, I had a different experience that's related to music and mental multi-tasking. I was singing along with a CD, one I really like and know all the words to. A question popped into my head and my mind went off on a tangent, exploring possible answers to my question. After a couple of minutes of intense thinking, my attention abruptly snapped back to the music -- which I was still singing, word for word and nearly on the last verse. Strange!

It reminded me of the experience of reading a book, following the words with my eyes, turning the pages at the end of each odd-numbered one, then becoming aware several pages later that I have no recollection whatsoever about what I've just read. Now, surely some of you have done that!


  1. I do the book thing and get so annoyed when I realize I don't know what I've read. But the music in my head is more of the earworm variety.

    Velvet, you do have so special skills there!

  2. Creekhiker, I've never considered it a skill. Even though I enjoyed the music, I wondered how big a stretch it would be from hearing music to hearing voices. That thought, of course, sparked my imagination and created mild concern that I might go all Son-of-Sam someday.

  3. Yep, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Except in the car, I'm reciting a poem from memory (I like to memorize poems to keep my brain working) and realize I have no memory of the trip from one block to the next. Eep.

    And yeah, I do the same thing with books, I go back and see a word or phrase and think, "oh yeah, I've read that." I say my brain is like a pinball machine, bouncing from one thought to the next, and I've recently wondered if I have Adult ADD.

    Speaking of ADD, my mom told me that my brothers had trouble paying attention in school (that was long before Ritalin.) I started wondering if having a brain like a pinball machine is actually normal, we just need a way to train our brains to stay on one subject at a time instead of simply medicating them.

  4. chingedy ching hee haw hee haw it's dominic the donkey chingedy ching hee haw hee haw the italian christmas--

    --oops, i'm sorry, were you saying something?

  5. It's not constant for me, VelvetSacks but the music can fill a fair percentage of the day. Sometimes I can figure out a logical connection to the selections on the playlist - like realizing a phrase in the newspaper started the song. Just the mention of a name similar to a singer or composer will lower the record to the turntable in the jukebox of my mind.

    I once asked a group of my sibs and cousins if anyone else woke up in the morning with a song in their head - only a few people knew what I was talking about, and they were all amateur musicians.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  6. Counting! I count everything! I'm not sure this is the same thing, but I count everything. Series of numbers! I'll repeat the same series of numbers when I'm doing a repeated thing. When I enter the code for my garage, at the same time I'm saying 1, 3, 5, 2, 6. I have not idea what that is for, nor what it means. I have no code or number in my life that even faintly resembles it. Note there is no 4, so I'm not counting...any ideas what this is about??? I would certainly prefer music! OCD perhaps?

  7. Bingo on reading blindly. It always surprises me to find I've gone through five or more pages like that.

    I sing to myself all the time but it's not like what you describe. I think mine is rooted in wanting to soothe myself from life's little stressors.

  8. I've done the book thing...a LOT. I'm glad to know now that I am not alone. I don't think I have the music...just often have the earworm thing. LOL, I remember reading once about someone who was picking up radio signals through the fillings in his teeth. Anymore, anything is possible. Have you ever thought what our world would look like if 'frequencies' were visible. With all the cell phone, satellite and radio frequencies...its a wonder we are able to walk through them. Hmmm, this seems like a good subject for Dean Koontz to write about.

  9. I count. I cannot help it and I don't do it all the time but I do count. Steps, ceiling tiles, windows. I also touch thumb to fingers in a repeating way, left to right, right to left, on both hands. And, now, I've just admitted both! Gah!

  10. Janet, I'm impressed that you memorize poems for your own amusement. I don't think I've ever memorized anything that wasn't a school assignment. Or maybe a poem I wrote and memorized it in the process of reworking it multiple times to get it right.

    Yajeev, I think that Christmas donkey is gnawing away at your brain.

    Annie in Austin, the "jukebox" you describe is exactly the way my music works. There's usually a song already playing, but any casual reference to a couple of words that remind me of an obscure song lyric will stop the currently playing tune and replace it, from the beginning, with the just-remembered one. It's so nice to meet "another one of us."

    Ruth, there are a number of people in my family who do the counting thing. The only things I tend to count are seconds (how long is this red light?) or steps (from my car to the door of Wal-Mart). Both of those counts are conscious, though, and counting (and remembering) the number of steps helps me find my car.

    Annie (of Little Rock), I sing and hum to myself as you do and for the same purpose: it's soothing. The music in my head serves the same purpose but without disturbing those around me.

    GTS Val, the concept you raised about being able to see radio frequencies is an interesting one. I wonder if we'd see them bouncing off of us or veering around us--or maybe passing through us. Okay, now you've got me thinking of all the possibilities and I'm picturing someone's mouth opening and closing to the frequency of the garage-door opening.;-)

    Duly Inspired, meet Ruth who commented above. She counts, too. The finger-touching thing is one I haven't heard of before, but that reminded me of a couple of my own quirks: sometimes I "type" (with my fingers on my lap) what a speaker is saying, and sometimes I "play piano" along with music I'm listening to. Since I've never been trained to play piano, I'm sure some of my fake notes aren't the right ones.


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