Sing to your dishwasher, and it just might sing back: The secret of appliance jingles

The reason why your appliances play classical music is more interesting than you'd think.Brooke Knoll

August 20, 2020

Appliances are a part of our daily lives — so much so, that we tend to zone out while using them, and don't pay them any mind. They're just tools to help us complete tasks, whether it be cleaning, cooking food or making a call.

But sometimes, our appliances make us pay attention to them. A listener in Tulsa, Okla., recently wrote:

My dryer plays a tune when it is done. I had never heard it before, but it became familiar to me. I listen to Public Radio Tulsa on my computer at work and one day "The Trout," or "Die Forelle," by Franz Schubert, came on and I started thinking, "I know that tune. Where do I know that tune from?" It was the tune that my dryer plays. My dryer plays classical music. I had to text my daughter at school. I sent her a link to "The Trout" on YouTube. When she heard it, we had a good laugh. Who would have thought? The dryer.

Along with being a funny story, it made me think: Why are our washing machines playing classical music? What other electronic jingles have used classical music? And, most importantly, what would Schubert think of all of this hullabaloo?

As it turns out, I'm not the first one to ask these questions. A feature in the Atlantic dives into why our electronics have evolved past the singular tones that say "I'm on!" to full-on concerts to accompany our tasks.

First, sound is a stimulus. It communicates to us that the machine we're using not only works, but is doing what it's supposed to do. Think of the click of a camera shutter — that sound lets you know that you did indeed take a picture. When digital cameras were invented, they programmed shutter sounds back in, even though the mechanics of the device no longer made physical noise. That sound carries through to the cameras on phones today. It's purely a communication tool.

When it comes to household appliances like washing machines and dishwashers, sounds go beyond just signaling function; they are meant to solicit a mood.

Appliance manufacturers want you to feel a certain way when they use their products. Yes, they could just use a buzzer noise to let you know that your clothes are done drying, but wouldn't a trumpetlike fanfare that makes you feel like you just completed a 5K on your way to the laundry room be so much more impressive?

Companies want you to feel good when you use their products to brighten your day, but also to create brand loyalty. You're more likely to buy a dishwasher from the same manufacturer if you liked the way it worked, as well as the way it made you feel.

That's how we get to classical music.

Classical music, and melodies, are easy for companies to use, because after a certain time period they go into the public domain — meaning, no licensing fees are required. So, Schubert's 'Die Forelle' is fair game for companies to integrate into their products. Likewise, LG washing machines use a jingle similar to the English folk tune "The Lincolnshire Poacher," which was set for voice and piano by composer Benjamin Britten.

What other songs have been used by our everyday appliances?

I have a distinct memory of my mom's Motorola RAZR playing the first few bars of Handel's Harp Concerto when she got a text in the early 2000s. My coworker Kathleen Bradbury's oven "preheat" sound is one note shy of doing a phrase from Haydn's Trumpet Concerto (which is maddening, to say the least). Others have spoken up about their dishwashers and washing machines bringing classical melodies into their day.

As for what would Schubert think of all of this? Well, he probably first would be amazed by the invention of the washing machine, but I'd like to think he'd also be happy that his "Trout" melody is swimming through thousands of homes.