All throughout my day, I hum, whistle, or outright sing. I am a creative, artistic person who has always enjoyed music, but I don’t just hum along to a song or whistle occasionally—I do it all day long.
I never thought much about my humming. It’s just a part of who I am. I love to sing, and I never suspected that my brain was being sneaky and trying (perhaps desperately) to focus through my musical fidgeting.
I first heard the term “verbal fidget” this year when my daughter’s first grade teacher addressed the fact that Nevie had difficulty staying quiet in class. She would blurt out nonsense rhyming words and (gasp!) hum during a lesson. Thinking about this, it hit me! I hum A LOT. I began to notice just how much I sing and hum and whistle while I work . . . Snow White minus the forest friends. I realized that I’m a verbal fidgeter too!
I like to think of my humming as sort of my engine noise. If I’m humming or whistling, I know the machine is working. My life has a soundtrack filled with all types of music. There’s always a song going through my head, and apparently it helps me focus. I notice that I’m doing it when I am busy. Mornings are especially musical: get the lunches made; make breakfast; make sure the kids are up and haven’t turned off the alarms; remind children to check folders and backpacks; get everyone out the door on time. The engine is humming and the brain is focused. On good days . . ..
Of course, I can be quiet. As an adult, it is easier for me to control that impulse than my 7-year old daughter. I think, like most people with ADHD, I need the help focusing when I am not particularly motivated or interested in the task at hand. Therefore, most of my “fidgeting” happens when I am busy with a physical or mundane task like folding laundry or cleaning the toilet.
There are times, like now when I am writing, that I need to turn off my own noise, my inner music. Why, you ask, does a person who hums to help herself focus—albeit, subconsciously—have to turn off the music when it’s time to focus on certain work? Here’s my theory: we need different levels of focus depending on the tasks we take on every day. When I’m working and relying on my brain to produce clear, lucid thoughts, my own humming or whistling is too distracting. I need to hear my voice and if that voice is already occupied with a song . . . well, ADHDers are good at multitasking, but that’s asking a little too much of my brain. These are the times when some “outer music” saves the day. Classical music, although complex and beautiful, has a “background noise” quality that takes the place of my fidget. It engages my brain like the fidget, and even though there is still music in the background, it feels quiet because the sound is not coming from me.
Classical music also gives me a break from my internal noise when I am not working and just relaxing. When I listen to classical music, I can listen passively—my brain doesn’t have to think about lyrics or melody. With music in general, if I know the song, I will sing along, so this type of music affords a rest if I need it. For the most part, my brain can just go quiet and relax. I love that feeling!
My family doesn’t get too annoyed by this fidget of mine. My daughter will ask me to stop singing so she can hear the song on the radio. My mother has commented, “Do you even know that you’re humming right now?” I annoy myself sometimes, especially when I get a song stuck in my head and it’s on repeat until I force myself to switch it off. I suppose my ADHD children are too busy making their own noises to be really bothered by it. I asked my husband about it once and he replied, “I just thought you were happy.”
Music is very important to our family. And it does make us happy to listen to music and to sing. Upbeat popular music helps us speed clean on a Saturday. We’ll do some dancing to release a little energy. We’ll put on jazz or classical during dinner to relax. Music helps me crank out dinner faster and go farther on a run. Lullabies at bedtime help my little darlings to relax and fall asleep.
Yes, there is music all day long here in my house. I’m glad that I have a musical fidget! There are many studies regarding the health and brain benefits of music. One such study showed that listening to music stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is about drive and motivation. Music is good for us, especially those of us with ADHD who might need a little nudge when it comes to drive and motivation. And, hey, if my fidget makes everyone think I am happy, and I can share a little happy with my family, that’s a good thing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go put on some Mozart so I can get “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie out of my head . . ..
 Zatorre, Robert J, Salimpoor, Valorie N. “Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/opinion/sunday/why-music-makes-our-brain-sing.html