Infecting Students with Earworms

Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head for hours? For days? The longest I’ve gone is three days nonstop! I was talking with a friend about this phenomenon the other day and was shocked to learn that he doesn’t hear the music in his head, just the words.  Me, I hear the full band, just like if it were on the radio.  How about you?

Well, whether you hear the words, the melody, or the full effect, you can use that experience to your advantage when it comes to learning.  Those songs that get stuck in your head are called “earworms,” and they’re a fun and easy way to learn all sorts of things!

OK, I’m dating myself here, but does anyone remember the “Pump Your Blood” song that Potsy used to learn anatomy on Happy Days?  Or the Pinball Song to learn to count on Sesame Street?  1-2-3-FOUR-FIVE-6-7-8-NINE-TEN-eleven-twelve!  Or how about the Schoolhouse Rock songs on Saturday mornings? A few I loved were:

If you’d like to view all of the Schoolhouse Rock series, just head over to YouTube.  They’re all there!  Or if you’d like to get really adventuresome, check out this musical version that can be performed by your students!

More recently, I know of one Davis (the link’s worth it!) elementary school teacher who offered extra credit for any student who memorized an adaptation of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” that included all 58 counties in California. The kids were having a ball practicing at recess!  And kids have been learning the “Fifty Nifty United States” for decades!


Another absolutely amazing set of songs comes from The Princeton Review Vocab Minute…mmmm.  🙂   There are a total of 128 short and catchy tunes that review SAT level vocabulary. They are all available for free on The Princeton Review’s website or as a podcast on iTunes.  Here is an example of one of the songs—”Street Cred“—being performed by a junior high class.

There’s even a company named Earworms that makes musical language learning applications. Obviously, using catchy tunes to enhance learning is here to stay, and with good reason!  A researcher named James Kellaris found that 98% of all people have experienced earworms.  Luckily, the same article that reported this fact also has some suggestions for getting them OUT of your head.  😉

So let’s hear from all of you!  Have you got any good earworms to infect us with?

5 thoughts on “Infecting Students with Earworms

    1. I agree, dragonbreathpress! I’ve read about people who use the theme from “Gilligan’s Island,” classical music (because there are no words to get stuck on), and “The Alphabet Song.” What do you use? How about other readers? Let’s start a list of good options, just in case. 😉

    2. Hi Laurie,
      I have several neutralizers: “Seven Story Mountain” by Railroad Earth, “Rattlesnake Ride” by New Monsoon, pretty much anything by the Stones. As a last resort, GnR’s “Welcome to the Jungle” is bound to send any ear-worm scurrying away.


  1. Music is an awesome way to memorize things! I loved the Schoolhouse Rock series, and I still remember learning songs from when I was a kid. My four-and-a-half-year-old niece can sing all the books in the Old Testament, for example (in that adorable little-kid voice, Our church actually has a slew of learning songs for kids.

    On a side note, Oliver Sacks has a section on ear worms in his book “Musicophila” (

    Thanks for the post, Laurie!

    1. How could I have forgotten that one… I learned the Old Testament song, too! (I was in church choir for something like five years when I was a kid.) Thanks for the reminder, Aaron! And for the link! I went to the parent site and found a lot more good reading. Not only are there entire books of music with interactive players, but there is also information on how to teach music to kids, special needs, sign language versions, and more. Wow! What a great resource.

      As for Musicophilia, I almost mentioned that in this post, but was trying to keep it short and sweet. I’m glad you mentioned it, because the entire book is very interesting reading (as are all of Oliver Sacks’ books).

      Thanks for stopping by, Aaron!

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