A Simple Method for Memorizing Lyrics

A Guest Post by Howtorunaband.com

I suck at memorizing lyrics. In fact, my first few shows, I have been faking the lyrics instead of memorizing them. Since I’m yelling metal, I’m hoping no one notices!

But I’m sick of doing that. I just wrote a new song and immediately went home and wrote the lyrics. I’m actually really digging the lyrics for this tune, and I want to have it memorized for my show this weekend. This time will be different.

So I did a quick Google search, and I could not find anything helpful to memorize lyrics. So, I developed my own method using some tricks I recently learned about how the brain works.

Let’s start with the lyrics I’m trying to memorize and walk you through the steps.

The Lyrics

I’m going to demonstrate using the first verse of my song.

Raging through the dead of the night
Energized with no end in sight
No, nothing can stop me now

Thoughts are ripping out of my brain
Crashing through like a nuclear train.
My mind is on fire now.

All the methods I found through my quick research state the obvious: Repeat the lyrics over and over. And, yes, you will have to do this. But let me tell you a little trick about the brain.

The brain is better at understanding a symbol or concept over a large sequence of words.The more words you try to hold in your brain at once, the less likely your brain can process them.

So, the secret is to transform the words into simple concepts and triggers.

Remove the non-essential words

On a separate page, take the lyrics and start removing words that don’t relay the concept. Only keep the key words in the line.

So the following line:

Raging through the dead of the night

Becomes:

Raging Through Dead Night

Repeat this process on the remaining lines until you have something like the following:

Raging through dead night
Energized end sight
No, nothing stop now

Thoughts ripping brain
Crashing nuclear train.
mind fire now.

Re-read this until, in your mind, you can read the full lyrics with only these cues.

You have just reduced the complexity of what you need to memorize.

Reduce even more

Now, reduce each line to only two keywords: the beginning and the end.

“Raging through dead night” becomes “Raging Night”. Repeat through all the lines.

Raging night
Energized sight
No now

Thoughts brain
Crashing train.
mind now.

Read through these until you are saying the full lines in your mind. Sing them mentally or out loud.

One word per line

Reduce to one word per line, the first word per line. If you have just the one word, your brain can use that word as the trigger for the full line. You no longer need to hold the full line in your head.

Raging
Energized
No

Thoughts
Crashing
mind

Again, read through these until you hear the full lyrics in your mind. Even at this point, you only need to memorize these few words which will trigger the full lines in your mind. But we’re not done yet.

Reduce sections to one word

Take rhyming sections, and reduce them to one word. Above, a rhyming section is 3 lines.

“Raging. Energized. No.” becomes “Raging”.

Raging
Thoughts

Yet again, read those two words until you hear the full lyrics in your mind. If you find yourself having trouble, just go back a step and try again.

Why this is better

Your short term memory sucks. It can barely hold anything. If you try to hold a ton of things in your mind at once, your mind will not work well. However, the brain processes a concept or a visual extremely easily.

For instance, “Bark, roots, branches, brown, leaves, green” is hard to memorize the full sequence. However, “tree” is extremely easy for our brain to pull up a visual and put meaning to that sequence.

Reducing lyrics to one or two key words or concepts allows the mind to symbolically group multiple items into one allowing for easy recall.

Plus, the process above forces you to repeat the lyrics over and over again. By the end of it, you are forcing your long term memory to kick in to help you out with the complexity of the lyrics. Using the simplistic one or two words allows quick access into your long term memory.

And if you’re learning lyrics at the last moment (like me), you can cheat and have just the key words for each line written very large on paper on the stage. Just a little glance down to trigger your memory. No one in the audience will be the wiser.

I hope this helps!

I am Chris “Seth” Jackson, a bass guitarist and composer.  I am an average musician, working a day job as a software engineer, in pursuit of fulfilling my life’s dream of being a self-sufficient musician.  Howtorunaband.com is to share the ups and downs of this adventure and, hopefully, find great techniques that everyone can use to achieve success in the extremely difficult world of music.

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