There used to be a popular TV game show called “Name That Tune” in which contestants listened to a few notes from a song and try to — that’s right — name it. The show proved that not everyone is good at recognizing music.
But scientists at Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine have discovered a case in which a woman could hum songs that she not only could not name but had never heard before.
Reported in the journal Frontiers in Neurology, the case involved a 60-year-old woman whose brain was a radio that played that she did not recognize, but only she could hear. While musical hallucinations — when a person hears music that is not coming from anywhere — are a known phenomenon, researchers Danilo Vitorovic and José Biller say this is the first recorded case of a person hallucinating music unknown to the person suffering the hallucination, even though when the woman hummed the music in her head out loud, other people could indeed name that tune.
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"This raises intriguing questions about musical memory, as well as mechanisms of forgetting,” the scientists wrote.
Musical hallucinations are more common in older people, particularly those with hearing impairment. In this reported case, the woman did suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. She initially heard the music in her head while trying to fall asleep, but in the coming months, the musical hallucinations grew constant.
Though she could hear other sounds and conversations while the music was playing in her brain, the woman would hear the same song repeatedly for weeks before her internal DJ played something new.
Vitorovic and Biller speculate that the songs were actually numbers she had heard before, but forgotten, raising the possibility that lost memories might not be as lost as we think.
"Further research is necessary on the mechanisms of forgetfulness," the scientists wrote. "In other words, is forgotten information lost, or just not accessible?"
SOURCES: Frontiers in Neurology, Science Daily, NBC News Health