Photograph of someone listening to music on headphones at a silent disco


Imagine listening to a catchy tune. When do you nod your head and sing along? That’s the hook, the most memorable part of the song, crafted by songwriters to stick in your head and exploited by DJs to get people onto the dance floor.

Everyone knows a hook when they hear it, but scientists don’t know why.

Join music lovers around the world to explore the science of songs and help scientists unlock what makes music catchy.

Play the game

We are working with scientists Dr John Ashley Burgoyne and Professor Henkjan Honing, based at the University of Amsterdam on our new citizen science experiment #Hookedonmusic.

“Music plays with our hearing, our memory, our emotions and our expectations in a fascinating way. But as listeners we’re often unaware of the fact that we ourselves play an active role in what makes music so exhilarating, soothing and inspiring. In reality, the listening doesn’t happen in the outer world of audible sound but in the inner world of our minds and brains.” From Musical Cognition, Henkjan Honing’s new book.

We’ve enlisted the help of Dr Erinma Ochu, Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow at the University of Manchester and our resident citizen science expert who pioneered the Turing’s Sunflowers experiment in 2012 to work alongside our scientists.

Erinma visited Ashley and Henkjan at the Music Cognition Group at the University of Amsterdam in May 2013 to find out more about the experiment and how we could take #HookedOnMusic to the science festival and the world.

This is what she found out…

What’s the idea?

The hook is the most noticeable bit of a tune. It’s the bit that stands out and makes music memorable or catchy. Just hearing a few bars of a song, people will suddenly recall that tune to mind. There are lots of theories about what makes music catchy (a danceable rhythm, a change in pitch etc) but little scientific evidence. By doing an experiment, designed as a game, we can test out these theories and see, for example, whether they apply to hooks in different genres of music.

During Manchester Science Festival 2013 we invited people to input their catchiest song choices to the #HookedOnMusic game playlist. Also were the top 40 selling pop tracks from each decade.

Why play a game?

We could send people to our laboratory and get them to arrange tunes in order of how catchy they are, but we need hundreds of thousands of participants to get enough data to analyse. So, we have created a fun game that can be played and shared with friends to involve people around the world. What better way to achieve that than using the power and wisdom of the crowd. The game will launch in May 2014.

Why does it matter?

The experiment is all about musical memory and might provide insights into long term memory and even failing memory, which could contribute to future Alzheimer’s disease research.

Get involved

We’ve designed a name-that-tune type game where people need to first recognise a tune then identify the hook in that song. By comparing the results from lots and lots of people who play the game, we will be able to look at the musical elements of the hooks to see what common factors, if any, create the most noticeable part of the tune.

First results

More than 150,000 people have already played the game, which looked at the relationship between music, its format and repetitive elements and how these hooks can remain in your memory. In November 2014, at the Manchester Science Festival, the research revealed the nation’s catchiest ever song as The Spice Girl’s ‘Wanna Be’ with Louis Vega’s Mambo Number 5 coming a close second.

The scientists will be presenting some of the game’s original findings later this year at the 2015 Manchester Science Festival. This paper aims to find the link between how a repetitive melody with prominent vocals is the route to creating a memorable record.


The game is now better than ever and with some cutting-edge new tricks which could significantly boost scientific research into Alzheimer’s disease.
It now features adaptive technology which gets to know the gamer’s musical memory and adapts to serve up songs which they will know.
The aim of this new version is to develop a therapeutic tool that a caregiver would be able to use with an Alzheimer’s patient in a long-term care facility to find the music that will be most beneficial to that particular patient.

Open up your ears, get your toes ready to tap, and head on over to play our game at

View video: Share your catchiest #hookedplaylist

View video: Story of Henry - Music & Memory iPod Project - Alive Inside Documentary