Musical hallucinations

piano_sheet_music.jpgThe New York Times has an article on people who experience musical hallucinations.

This form of hallucination is interesting, because they are often the only unusual experience a person will have, unlike in psychosis, where hallucinations may be part of a range of anomalous beliefs and experiences.

Patients reported hearing a wide variety of songs, among them “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Three Blind Mice.” In two-thirds of the cases, the music was religious; six people reporting hearing the hymn “Abide With Me.” Dr. Aziz believes that people tend to hear songs they have heard repeatedly or that are emotionally significant to them.

Neurologist Tim Griffiths has been brain scanning people who experience these hallucinations. He has found that similar areas of the brain are active when a person is hallucinating music, compared to when they are actually listening to music, except for an area called the primary auditory cortex. This is the area of the brain just behind the ears, and is responsible for the initial processing of sounds.

Interestingly, musical hallucinations are often triggered by deafness.

These music-processing regions may be continually looking for signals in the brain that they can interpret, Dr. Griffiths suggested. When no sound is coming from the ears, the brain may still generate occasional, random impulses that the music-processing regions interpret as sound. They then try to match these impulses to memories of music, turning a few notes into a familiar melody.

Link to reg free New York Times article on musical hallucinations (originally via BrainBlog).

UPDATE: There’s a good piece by Carl Zimmer on musical hallucinations here.

20 Comments

  1. Posted July 13, 2005 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Thankfully, it’s ‘unlike’ a psychosis.

    I’ve been ‘complaining’ in recent posts about ‘hearing’ songs in my head… once I kept ‘hearing’ a Wagner opera, and then a Sheryl Crow song, and then recently I started whistling Ave Maria.

  2. Leigh English
    Posted October 9, 2007 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    I just discovered that I have “musical hallucinations.” I’ve had them as long as I can remember (sixty+plus years), and I thought that everybody had them. I never mentioned it because I thought it was normal. Now I am consciously focusing on them and have started noting what is playing when I go to sleep, what is on when I wake up in the night, and what is playing in the morning. I could tell a lot about it if anyone is interested or would like to study my case.

  3. dantenow
    Posted February 12, 2008 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    I have had musical hallucinations in the past, but usually the tunes/beats are unique, and i can never recall exactly what their keys or progressions were like or exactly what the lyrics in them were (i’ve never been able to transcribe one), but they are usually really awesome. they tend to happen in a half-dreaming state. I have only gotten them in the past few years, though (i am 24). also, i am definitely not deaf. I have never had a musical hallucination where i knew the song.

  4. ina
    Posted May 10, 2009 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    im interested in connecting with others who experience musical hallucinations.These melodies started in’04, a year before the NYTimes article “…Brain becomes an Ipod” was published. I have had a serious hearing problem for many years, but the music that I hear, distinctly different songs, sounds, is fascinating. I simply wish that it was not I who was experiencing these melodies.I wonder if Lupus (which I have) contributes to this? I feel quite well, but the different melodies are distracting indeed. My mood sometimes invites gregorian chants, or jazz.. I am not in control though I try to identify what might bring on a particular music.

    • Posted December 19, 2012 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      i’m 76-male, and had a C-I in july 2012–I never heard music prior to C-I-one mo. after implant, I began hearing music, quite loud, and I could understand words.The songs repeat and repeat, and then may change to another tune, and repeat, voices are mens choral lowtones-variety incl.-patriotic-religious-childrens nursury rymes.(example)The farmer in the dell–happy birthday song-america the beautiful-auld ang-sine.I can at times, change songs mentally-My surgeon told me i’m not crazy. very inlightning!I also wear an aid-(a BTE)-I’m actualy getting use to the music.
      altho, trouble sleeping–looking for cure and answers–HELP !

  5. Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    it is a gift.. and its trying to tell you something.. write down what you hear and then look at it the next day..

  6. christy
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I have started having these about a year ago. It happens when you are right in between being awake and asleep. I also have sleep paralysis with it: where I am aware of my body and sometimes my eyes are even open but I know I am asleep and can’t move. At first, it was songs I’ve never heard but now its only songs I know. Actually sometimes I am even able to control what song is played or forcing myself to stop it (if that’s what I want).

  7. oosh
    Posted December 17, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’ve had unique music (which is hands down the most colossally awesome music I’ve ever heard) playing in my head all my life. My mother has it to, but experienced it more when she was younger. Both of us are musically inclined/gifted, so it’s not a problem to say the least! I have been able to transcribe parts of them (as they are constantly progressing and unending). But, to do so I have to “tune out” of whatever “mode” my brain is in (while listening to/altering it) to play it or write it down. By the time I tune back “in” the music has progressed. I’ve found that using a mini voice recorder helps in the moment. One thing I have noticed is that I have a hard time “hearing” it when I’m in a depressed state; full of doubt & defeatism.

  8. Rachel Firth
    Posted February 10, 2011 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    For the last two days I have had Christmas Carols and turgid Victorian Hymns playing in my head. At first I thought it was the neighbours, but it seemed unlikely that anyone would play the first verse of O Come All yea Faithful over and over for hours. (Tonight’s special is Deck the Halls)Plus it’s the same volume wherever I am in the house. And the choir fudges over the lyrics if I don;t know them. I can control what is sung if I concentrate, but I can’t stop it and it would seem that it has to be choral. It’s driving me up the wall. No sleep tonight at all and work tomorrow.

    • Grace Matthews
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      Rachel, I have this happen quite a lot and the only thing I can suggest to you is to get some background noise happening – this helps me, it interferes somehow.

      I moved to Edinburgh recently and the noises of the city have reduced this so much… just a thought.

      I noticed that background noise helped a while ago and so I started leaving the television on… I accidently taught myself to fall asleep to it and it has taken me nearly a year to de-train myself (I was passing out in the cinema a lot… ah, so many good films I have snoozed through thanks to that mishap). =P

  9. Grace Matthews
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    I remember my first musical hallucination… I was working in a kitchen in my home town and I had been listening to the radio all day (we always listened to the charts on Sunday) when this song came on and I had to stop working, it was the most awesome thing I had ever heard (I’ve noticed that each one of these hallucinations tends to be ‘the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard’)… I ran over to the radio and cranked it up rocking out to it… when I turned around the entire kitchen staff was looking at me like I was mad – the radio had been broken since the previous evening… but I had listened to it for about 4 hours in a row.

    I went to a doctor the next day as I had been experiencing mood swings and whatnot… they have pretty much decided that I am Bi-Polar… so, maybe this is a warning, if you start seeing and hearing things that aren’t real then it could very well be a sign of something larger… especially in your later adolescence.

    Ever since that day I have had many many hallucinations… I’m not allowed to drive until I’ve gone four months without one and mostly they are original works (I have even figured a fair few out on the guitar) – it is really strange playing them though, because I know they didn’t exist until I heard them but they still feel like a cover song because I wasn’t singing.

    It isn’t uncommon for one of my favourite artists to be singing a song I have written – Alicia Keys and Sam Sparro have both appeared in my dreams singing songs they have never performed.
    I think it is considered to be ‘creative ideation’ under the flag of Bi-Polar…

    I can’t control it but I consider it a gift… and I have my iPhone at hand with Evernote installed so I can hum or sing the lyrics, with practice I can now get most of the melody together. I tend to break the songs down to the different instruments (so I whistle a saxophone bit, hum the drum beat, it can get quite complex)… I have a massive database now of about 30,000 clips. I figured out that they would play for 20 days straight if I played them one after the other.

    Anyway, the point in all this text is that I would suggest you go to a doctor if you are experiencing hallucinations (especially if they are keeping you awake – the amount of times this has happened to me I cannot count).

    • TJ
      Posted June 28, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Hearing songs 24hrs a day makes me so restless. For a long time I thought it was normal to hear parts of certain songs repeating over and over, until a few days ago when I started reading about adult bipolar. Before that I’d never heard of auditory hullcinations.

  10. cathy
    Posted July 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I hear background music and sounds of the weather channel and news reporters after I turn off the tv. I hear the same when I am in bed and have the window air conditioner on and some times coming from the air conditioner in my office.

    During college football season I would hear football announcers and band music. One night I could not fall asleep because of the football sounds that I got up to check the TV -it was off but I could still hear it – so I unplugged it.

    I have read some reports of hearing radio or tv through fans, outlets and appliances. I hope that is all this is.

    Anyone else?

  11. Dorothy Ward
    Posted August 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I have had music hallucinations for over two years. I hear mostly beautiful, most of which is familiar but also some that is not. There have been songs with absolutely beautiful harmony that I am sure I haven’t heard before. These are male voices in all ranges. I have also heard songs where the vocalist wasn’t familiar to me but his name popped into my head. I Googled it to see if there was such a person and yes, that person had recorded that song. I am 81 years old and deaf. I was a singer and actress.

    I rarely mention this condition because it seems to make others uncomfortable or to smile and ignore what I have said. I do have two friends with the same condition.

    • arlis
      Posted November 21, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      it is a blessing from God. enjoy it.

  12. arlis
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    i have heard music for 5 years. they are not songs i have heard. just melodies. chimes. harps. organs. sometimes loud. i sometimes hear them in dreams and when i wakeup the melody is still playing. i play my guitar and amp with headphones on an i hear a choir trumpets lead guitar flutes. opera singer. keyboard with strings sound. its simply beautiful. all at the same time. alternating which one comes loud. in different ears. all playing something different but it matches i love it!

  13. Lynn
    Posted July 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I have tinnitus, and musical hallucinations. The hallucinations only occur in the presence of background humming noises like the air conditioning, heater or car engine. It is rarely tunes I know; it can be anything from Beach Boys type music to monk-like chants. I hear words, but I never understand them. It keeps me awake. I do take benzos for anxiety, and if I forget to take one before bed (anxious or not) the musical hallucinations are worse. So could it be a symptom of mild withdrawl in some cases? Stress? Exhaustion? I’d like more information and maybe someday a cure before I do go batshit crazy!

  14. Posted November 23, 2013 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    hey, i have musical hallucinations. I have had them since i could remember. Right now im 14 (yeah i know im young) but i really hate and love it. I get to listen to any song i want to on command. But if my mind wanders for a second i loose it and switch to another song (random). But sometimes, i have no control of the songs, it can keep me up at night. And drives me INSANE. If you want more details on me, just ask.

    • Bob
      Posted November 25, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      I started my musical hallucinations 18 mo.ago, when I had a cochlear implant on my left ear.
      most of the music was patriotic and Christmas carols. I could concentrate, and change to different songs. I rarely get music now, but enjoy it, and know I’m in control. i’ts actually kind of fun !

  15. SWIM
    Posted January 6, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    i have experienced musical hallucinations several times under the influence of marijuana. the first time it happened i had just smoked after a 4 week tolerance break. i was in the shower and the patter of water against the showers bottom slowly morphed into violins, cellos and harps until there was an entire perfect arranged orchestra playing the most beautiful music id ever heard in my head. from what i could tell id never heard it before and all i can remember thinking is “i wish i could compose classical music because i need to write this down.” when i got out of the shower the music contined until i fell asleep. in the morning it was gone.i often find myself wondering if i had heard the music before and stored it somewhere deep within the recesses of my memory. i have had similar experiences since but the music is usually a jazz or blues song that repeates with a complex bassline, a guitar, drums and a harmonica.this song always sounds familiar but i can never place it.i personally love when i am having a musical hallucination but if i had to deal with it 24/7 i could see how it could get annoying. if anyone has had similar experiences id love to hear them


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