How To Memorize Lyrics
Camille van Niekerk
Pure repetition works if you have plenty of time. But if you’re on a tight schedule and want to speed up the memorization process, here are some tried-and-true tips used by professional singers.
1. Learn the melody while reading the lyrics. Right from the start, don’t learn entirely by ear. Use your eyes, too! When we engage more than one sense, our brains have more connections to the material we’re learning.
2. Print the lyrics and make notes.
• Divide your song into sections by bracketing (or labeling) the verses, choruses, bridge, etc.
• Mark your breaths and phrases
• Circle any unexpected aspects of the melody, such aslarge leaps, repeated notes, or runs
• Make note of rhymes, alliteration, or other patterns that can aid memorization
3. Hand-write the lyrics. You may have received this advice while studying for a big test: hand-write your notes, or even copy your typed notes by hand to more thoroughly absorb the material. It works for lyrics, too! Both the process of writing and seeing the lyrics in your own handwriting are helpful.
4. Speak the lyrics. This helps you understand and internalize what you’re saying. Each song is also a poem, a story, a conversation. If you understand your lyrics in terms of the story you’re telling, you’ll have an easier time remembering what comes next.
5. Record yourself singing (and rehearse to that). Once you’ve learned the melody, record yourself singing (either with the original or a karaoke track). Just like seeing your own handwriting, hearing your own voice helps you connect to the lyrics more personally.
6. Create a clear image for each distinct section. This is a tip I often give to younger students who aren’t reading fluently, but it works for adults, too! I’ll give an example using “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s Moana:
Verse 1: Moana standing at the water’s edge
Chorus 1: Horizon & windy sea
Verse 2: Moana among her people
Chorus 2: Sunlight & the sun “calling” to Moana
Chorus 3: Horizon & windy sea (repeat of chorus 1)
The images should help you instantly remember what the focus of that specific section is, along with any key lyrics. Chorus 1 begins with “see the line where the sky meets the sea”, whereas chorus 2 begins with “see the light as it shines onthe sea”, so I made sure to include those distinct images.
7. Continue rehearsing with the karaoke track and only glance down at your lyrics when necessary. Most karaoke tracks on YouTube will have lyrics on the screen. Challenge yourself to step away from the screen and instead visualize your audience as you sing. Looking at the lyrics can become a “safety blanket” long after you’re fully memorized. Practice as you’ll perform, and only glance down at your lyric sheet if you draw a blank.
Remember - even pros forget a lyric here and there! If that happens during a rehearsal, practice carrying on and jumping back in when you remember the next lyric.