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10 Tips & Tricks to Memorize Song Lyrics that Actually Work

In Guides for Musicians, Guides for Singersby Jake LLeave a Comment

Memorizing the lyrics to a song can be a challenging obstacle that many singers find difficult to overcome. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, there are just some songs that give you the hardest time when it comes to memorizing them. Well, to help out my fellow singers and musicians, I’ve constructed a list of 10 tips and tricks on how to memorize song lyrics that actually work.

Everything I will discuss in this list has come from my personal experience or the experiences of other singers, musicians, and performers.

1. Learn Music and Lyrics Separately

This is more towards singers who plan to accompany themselves with an instrument while they sing. It may sound productive to try and learn both the music and lyrics at the same time, however, it just makes learning the song complicated. I highly recommend that you learn the music and lyrics separately when trying to memorize a song. This will save your brain from being overworked while being more productive in the end.

Start with the Music

It’s going to be beneficial for the entire memorizing process to learn the music first. Focus on learning the chords, melody, and rhythm of the song until you are comfortable playing all of the music by itself. Once you’ve done that, you can start tackling the lyrics using the different tips and tricks that we are going to talk about in this article.

It’s an efficient way of spacing out what you’re trying to memorize and prepare. You’ll have an easier time, ensuring that you’re ready to perform the song when the time comes.

2. Stacking the Lines (Step-by-Step)

Stacking the lines, or phrases of the songs is a very good technique that I personally use when I’m in the process of memorizing lyrics. Let me explain how I used this technique to memorize Ed Sheeran’s song, “Perfect.”

Here are the first four lines of the song:

“Perfect” by Ed Sheeran

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead
Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet 

Using this stacking technique you would start by memorizing the first line of this section, “I found a love for me”. Next, I’ll move on to the second line, “Darling just dive right in“,  and practice it a couple of times to try and get it in my head.

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead
Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet 

Now, before going to the third line, indicated in orange, I will stack the first two lines together to see if I have it memorized.

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in

When I am confident in my memorization of these lines, I’ll move onto the next line, And follow my lead”. This lyric section is going to look like this:

(Green Indicating what has already been stacked)

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead
Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet 

Now, you just repeat the steps over and over again, stacking the lyrics you memorize one step at a time. For visual purposes, your goal is to have this entire section memorized, indicated in the example below with the green.

I found a love for me
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead
Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet 

I recommend that you separate the lyrics into different sections when using this technique, just like how I did with this song (The first four lines = Section 1). It won’t be as intimidating as tackling the entire song all at once, while also making it easier for you to break down the lyrics.

3. Record Yourself (2 Different Techniques)

Now, recording yourself singing the songs you’re trying to memorize is always a good idea, but here are some ideas you should try out if you plan to utilize recording methods.

Speaking the Lines

Instead of recording yourself singing the lines, you can try to record yourself speaking them and listen to the playback repeatedly. Listening to recordings of you singing over and over can definitely help you drill the lyrics into your head, however, it might also influence how you deliver the lyrics when its time to perform. You’ll be hearing the same delivery of how you sang the song in the recording over and over again. This can affect how you perform the song since you’ll be very familiar with how you sang it in the recording.

This might not be ideal for you, especially if you wanted to perform the song more freely. Listening to recordings of yourself just speaking the lyrics is a great alternative that allows you to focus more on memorizing the words that you’re going to be singing.

Pauses in Between Each Line for Echoing (Creating Your Own Guide)

This is something I wish I started doing sooner. It might take some time to set up, but it’s definitely a great way to memorize song lyrics. I recommend recording with no music (acapella) to make it easier on you.

What you’re going to do is record yourself singing the song, however, you’re going to want to pause in between each line. The pause should be long enough for you to echo the same line after you hear it in the recording. This allows you to enforce the memorizing process using multiple parts of your brain. Listening to the lyrics and then repeating it back.

It’s basically creating your own personal guide to memorize the songs that you’re working on.

4. Read Lyrics Out Loud

Reading out the lyrics can also be an effective way of memorizing a song. It also saves energy that is used when singing so you can put more of an emphasis on learning the lyrics while also taking fewer breaks to rest your vocals in between.  When doing this though, make sure that you’re reading the lyrics out loud. This enforces the memorization process since you’ll be reading the lyrics while also hearing yourself say it.

5. Slow and Steady

Whether you’re singing or saying the lyrics out loud, try going over the words nice and slowly. Make sure to pronounce and articulate each word and be as precise as possible. Divide the syllables that you are singing/speaking with an emphasis on the vowels and consonants that make up each word. This ensures that you’re going through each lyric, allowing you to not only memorize the song lyrics but also practice singing them how they were intended to be sung.

6. Visualize the Story in the Lyrics

Photo on Visual hunt

If you really think about it, a song is basically a story with music. Visualizing the story of the song is a great way of developing a deeper understanding and connection to the song. Our minds will naturally create images that portray the lyrics when we put effort into visualizing the story that is being told. This will help throughout the entire process of memorizing a song because it gives our brains the opportunity to associate the lyrics to a song to a visual image in our heads. We can then use these images to recall back to the lyrics when we are singing the song by memory.

7. Create a Mental Storyboard

Creating a mental storyboard of the songs you’re trying to memorize is very helpful, especially when the song has subtle changes in lyrics and patterns. We’ll use the song “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran again as an example to show you what we mean by subtle changes in lyrics and patterns. We’ll also show you how creating a mental storyboard can help.

For Ed Sheeran’s song, “Perfect”, he changes up the lyrics in each chorus. The differences will be indicated in red.

Chorus 1:

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Chorus 2:

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark, with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song
When I saw you in that dress, looking so beautiful
I don’t deserve this, darling, you look perfect tonight

Chorus 3:

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark, with you between my arms
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song
I have faith in what I see
Now I know I have met an angel in person
And she looks perfect
I don’t deserve this
darling, You look perfect tonight

As you can see, the changes are subtle, but they’re enough to throw someone off. For me personally, I kept confusing the order of the choruses, sometimes singing the second chorus first when practicing the song.

Mental Storyboard

A storyboard is used to help set up the sequence of frames and shots that help drive the story, in this situation, the song. Creating a mental storyboard of the song you are trying to memorize will help you put the lyrics together in the right order. It’s very helpful, especially for a song that is like the example above. Here’s how I put my mental storyboard together for these changes in the choruses.

Chorus 1: 

When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath
But you heard it

Storyboard: A mental image of a younger couple still early on in their relationship. The girl is frustrated constantly saying that they’re not good enough and are a complete mess. This is when the guy whispers underneath his breath that she looked perfect, and the girl heard it and smiled.

Chorus 2: 

When I saw you in that dress, looking so beautiful
I don’t deserve this,

Storyboard: It’s the couple’s wedding day and the girl is slowly walking down the aisle as the guy patiently waits for her at the alter. The next frame is prioritizing the girl, showing how beautiful she looks in her wedding dress. It then shows the guy who is lost in words realizing that he’s so lucky to have a girl like her, feeling like he doesn’t deserve a beautiful moment like this.

Chorus 3:

I have faith in what I see
Now I know I have met an angel in person
And she looks perfect
I don’t deserve this
darling, You look perfect tonight

Storyboard: The couple stares into each other’s eyes and a light shines from the heavens (faith) directly onto the girl (Indicating that she’s like an angel from the sky). He still feels like he doesn’t deserve her, but stays and continues to look into her eyes. For the first time in this whole story, the guy tells the girl directly, “You look perfect tonight.”

This mental storyboard that I created for myself really helped me remember the differences of each chorus of this song. It also made it easier for me to understand the order of the choruses. This was one of my biggest challenges in memorizing this song, however, visualizing the exact order of how the story unfolds really helped me memorize the song lyrics of Ed Sheeran’s song.

8. Understand the Message of the Song

Empty list of ideas

Every song has a message that it’s trying to get across through its lyrics. While some songs are clear and straight to the point, others may take more effort in analyzing the lyrics. There are even songs that have multiple meanings, depending on how the listener interprets the lyrics.

Understanding the meaning or message of the song you’re trying to memorize is very helpful as it allows you to interpret the lyrics with meaning, instead of just the words you have to sing with music. It’s like when you read a book. If you read a book and don’t put any effort into understanding what you’re reading, it’s just a bunch of words that don’t mean anything to you. You’re just going from page to page, which leads to you not comprehending what you just read.

This is the same with music. Putting an effort in analyzing the lyrics that you are singing helps you put more meaning into the words. You will find that the lyrics will stick with you much more as you practice the song when you understand the purpose of the words used.

9. Memorize the Rhymes

It’s no secret, most of the time, songs have some kind of rhyme scheme in their lyrics. Rhyming has been used by poets and songwriters for a very long time now. Many say that this is because rhyming is very useful when it comes to memorizing.

Historians even believe that rhyme was invented so cultures can pass down their stories through generations before any form of writing was created.

It’s important to learn all the words of the song that you’re trying to memorize, however, if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, try to work on memorizing the rhymes first. You can use rhymes as cues that will help you recall the words that come before them. This can be very helpful, especially when the rhyme schemes are simple.

10. Write Lyrics Down Repeatedly

Songwriter Writing Lyrics into journal Last, but not least, you should try and write down the lyrics repeatedly on a piece of paper. You can start off with the lyrics in front of you, but the goal is to be able to write down the entire song by memory.

Writing the lyrics down repeatedly will help ingrain them in your mind. This is a great technique, especially for those who consider themselves to be visual learners. It’s also very helpful when you’re singing a song that has more complicated lyrics, whether it uses complex words or is simply vague and hard to interpret.

This allows you to go over each line in even more detail as you write them down. While you write down the lyrics, you can also think about the meaning of each line. Overall, it will help you memorize the words with the good old’ technique of repetition until it sticks.

Final Thoughts

You should never feel lost when it comes to memorizing song lyrics. While all of these tips and tricks are great, make sure to keep in mind that a technique that works great in memorizing one song, might not be the best in memorizing a different one. Every song may require a different approach when it comes to memorizing them. Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you make the process of memorizing song lyrics less overwhelming and more doable. And a last piece of advice is to know when to take a break. Don’t overwork and burn yourself out. Take your time and let the song naturally ingrain itself into your memory with the help of the techniques we have discussed. Best of luck!

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Thumbnail Photo credit: bizmac on VisualHunt / CC BY

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