For today’s blog topic, I wanted to discuss something that seems to be an issue for a lot of musicians. We don’t all recall facts at the same rate. It is an element of performance that has always caused me a lot of grief, but thankfully I have some tools to combat the issue. If you find that this is a shared challenge for you, read on to hear my best advice for memorizing your music and lyrics.
1. Writing Down The Lyrics
This is the one that seems to work the best with me. I am a very visual person, and once I have written down the lyrics they seem to be wired deeper into my brain. After I have written them down, I try to say them out loud by memory. If one pass at writing down the lyrics did not work, I will trace and re-trace those lyrics until they are engraved in my mind.
2. Walking Around While You Memorize
This is a trick that was taught to me by one of my theater teachers. Kinesthetic movements are very powerful in regards to your memory. Scientists have even proven that dancing helps fight Alzheimer’s. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that walking around while you repeat the lyrics to a song helps jog the memory banks during performances either. Why it seems so helpful for song recall is that you remember being in a specific place while you say the lyric. When I used to perform primarily in theater, staging all of my movements helped, because I would associate a certain movement with a certain lyric. It’s a bit tougher when you are on a small stage in a “park and bark” scenario with a rock band. However, you can still stage your movements as much as you need to, and definitely move around while you are practicing at home.
Break the song up into chunks and focus on the difficult parts first as they will need more work. Once you feel comfortable with those sections, return to the refrain or the easy to remember chorus that you already know.
4. Drawing Pictures
If I am memorizing a song when the lyrics are incredibly complex or don’t really have a story, I create my own story with pictures. I simply do what I did earlier and write out all of the lyrics, and then beside a specific section, I will draw a picture to remind me what the lyric is. Eventually, I just look at the pictures on the side and sing it that way. As we discussed earlier, since I am a visual learner I will be able to see those images in my mind and they help me recall the lyrics as I perform.
Another teacher told me in college, “The best tool against stage fright is being so prepared that you CAN’T fail.” I truly believe that more than anything else, stage fright will de-rail a song and make you lose focus in a performance. So, you have to learn how to overcome that. Sing it over and over again. Try all of the tactics on the list and really practice until the song is a part of you. Practice it memorized in front of your friends to create a more stressful scenario for yourself, while keeping the stakes manageably low. That way, when your big performance comes, you will show up and be able to absolutely slay it.
6. Analyzing The Music
As musicians, some of us are very active listeners and some are not. If you are not actively looking at the meaning of the song and seeing how it changes throughout, make sure that you do. The story line can jog your memory to the proper order that the lyrics belong. Another way to analyze a song is by looking at the overall skeleton of it- or form. You will be amazed at how much faster you can learn a song if you do this. You can even look through a song with really tough lyrics and say, “All I really need to work on is memorizing two tough verses and then the chorus just repeats after each verse." If I happen to lose my place in the music, I feel more confident jumping back in and finishing strong if I am solid on the structure of the piece.
I hope that this has been helpful for you. Sometimes it helps just finding another person out there who shares your frustrations in regards to the musical process. Reach out to me in a comment if you have any questions, or you have a fun technique that works for you. Make sure to check out our music on the home page, and subscribe if you want more blogs like this! Cheers!