How to Memorize a Song

Learning the words to a song is obviously an important skill for a singer to master. Here are some tips to help you lock in those lyrics.

1. Get audio of the song on your mp3 player, phone, or a CD so you can make use of “idle time.” (I learn a lot of songs while commuting.)

2. Study your lyrics. Find the lyrics and read them. A ton of song lyrics are online. Beware: not every version is correct.

3. Visualize the words. If you are a visual learner, it can help to “see the text” in your mind’s eye. How were the lyrics laid out on the page (see #2). When you sing, you can “read” the lyrics.

4. Write out the words. Write out the lyrics several times. Copy them from a source the first time and then with each repetition work to write more and more of the words from memory.

5. Learn the story of the lyrics. It helps me to create a sort of slideshow of the “scenes” of a song. Kind of like a storyboard for a movie (but more abstract).

6. Use the structure of the song to help you. Look for patterns in the lyrics you can remember – words that rhyme, sequence of events (i.e. seasons), form (verse, verse, bridge, verse or verse, verse, chorus).

7. Create some choreography. Come up with a movement or gesture for as many of the words of your song as possible. Then act out the song.

8. Let go of cheat sheets. Switching back and forth between singing words from memory and sneaking glances at a lyric sheet divides your attention. Lose the cheat sheet and put all your focus on remembering the words.

9. Keep thinking. When you are performing a song, stay present and alert. Recreate the song’s story and communicate it to your audience.

10. Give yourself time to integrate. Work on your memorizing your song well before you need to perform it. It is best if you can have at least a night or two to sleep on the lyrics you’ve learned. (Cramming doesn’t really work anywhere, including learning songs.)

Remember, performing is about giving the best rendition of the song that you can in that moment. Very few people will notice if you mix up a word or two. They will notice, however, if you get flustered and stop singing.

When memorizing lyrics, practice moving forward even if you miss a word or two. This will help you learn to trust your ability to find the words. In performance, it is important to know that you can “get back on the horse” if something goes differently from how you planned.

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