As musicians, we all have to memorize music, lyrics, chords, dynamics and more. That alone can be daunting and definitely requires some effort. It’s easier to memorize a song you really like or perhaps one you’ve written yourself.
I find the best way to start memorizing a song you didn’t write is to listen to it as much as possible. Put it on your portable player and listen actively and passively.
Find the chord charts and lyrics and decide on the best key for your singing purposes. Double check the chords against the song. Practice the song over and over again. I like using YouTube and also looping programs to work on especially hard sections.
I have a hard time remembering lyrics, so I need to write them down and speak them out loud as a monologue. Instead of being a rhythmic memorization I am now learning a story. It makes it easier for me if I get lost during a practice or performance. I’ll remember the story more than random rhymes. That is if the song is well written.
I also break down verse and chorus by chords. I’ll write out just the simple chord progressions by section and play them over and over again. I also try to find if there are easier ways to play the chords. Look for common fingering between the chords. Perhaps use bar chords instead of open chords for a section.
Once I have the story and the chords I just repeat, repeat, repeat. And last but not least, practice the last parts first. People tend to forget the second half of songs, so start with the last verses first.
In desperate situations I cut a piece of paper with my cheats and tape it to the top of my guitar, and then I find I never actually need to look. The process of writing it down actually reinforces the memorization.
Dorit is a rock singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Middle Eastern dancer. She has performed internationally on concert stages, TV, film and theater and has inspired many students to find to their own expression through music and dance. Dorit’s goal is to produce her album and complete an acoustic guitar she hand built as a teenager at the Bronx High School of Science. Her influences include Led Zeppelin, Middle Eastern music, Latin music and old-school hip-hop—anything with great rhythm. Find out more about Dorit here>>