On memorizing lyrics

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by StompBoxBlues, Feb 7, 2012.

  1. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

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    Because I really do not want to use a music stand, read lyrics at a gig, and I'm the new singer, been working like a dog to get the lyrics in my head...

    I find it fascinating. It seems so daunting when you just THINK about starting to memorize 20 or so songs that it's easy to put it off, etc.
    But once you actually start, MOST of it goes pretty quickly.

    Some tips that work for me (and some warnings about what doesn't):

    - It NEVER works for me to have the lyrics in front of me, while playing. Seems like this is the worst way to memorize, because just having them there (even if you only glance at them once in a while) is totally different than closing the book (removing the page) and trying it. I don't know why...I noticed this also when learning things from TAB... it just plain never happens that "if I do it enough they will get ingrained".

    - Write out the lyrics on PC or paper. This helps, but especially if you just think about (not hard) what the lyrics are, what they do, if it is some kind of story, what the story is. Later on build images...of the words.

    - NOTE: lyrics that are cryptic, tell no real story, or such are harder by far. Also lyrics that are very similar from verse to verse, but change slightly can be.

    - It helps a lot to download the lyrics to your telephone for one example, have them at hand, and from time to time during the day (driving, whatever) try to sing one of the songs, when you get stuck DON'T sing it wrong and move on, but when you get a chance check the real lyrics and note what it should have been.

    - Also helps to sing along with the recorded version (when there is one) but be VERY aware that you sing ON the beat...often we don't even know we are doing it but we listen for the first syllable the original artist did and clue in on that...if you sing even just a little ahead of the recording, better. No notes.

    - Look in the song for clues you can hang on to. Some songs, mnemoics...
    for the first lines in each song (all of these "tricks" are just until you really learn a song, when you do that, you won't need them, they are just temporary).

    Some examples from my setlist...

    "Wind Cries Mary"... I've always heard this song, but never had all the lyrics down. First thing for me, the KEY...was to remember which "Wind XXXX Mary" in which verse. This was pretty easy as the wind "Whispers, Cries, (then solo), Screams, then Cries again". For some reason that was the foothold I needed to get me into it.

    After that, the beginnings of first lines helped: After all the jacks, A Broom, (solo), The traffic lights, Will the wind ever remember (that last makes sense too...as it sums up!).

    "Maybe I'm a Leo". I was never a big Deep Purple guy...so this song was actually new to me. It kinda sorta tells a story, but really doesn't.
    It's only THREE small verses, 4 lines each (how I have it laid out)...and yet, one of the harder to remember. Here again (must be the way I think) the endings of each I mix up and therefore I need my foothold...
    so I think (all of this is from memory, Wind Cries mary also..hope I didn't have it wrong !) first two verses end in "Where is she now?", last one "I want her now".

    The only thing that helps, visualizing someone "Peeping round the door" (don't need the whole line, "I get a big surprise" comes naturally as long as I have the first part of the line) next line "Couldn't see a thing but, open skies" makes no sense. Hard to remember but ok. (If you can't see a thing BUT open skies...what is that?) "They" took her away....

    Next verse, wishing she were her, maybe she'd laugh, understand, but then "Why was I so cruel" and the ending (where is she now).

    The ending, suddenly "Acting like a fool" "make her cry", "Maybe I'm a leo" is the title, so easy to remember here, but then I ALWAYS get lost...
    he's "hurtin oh so bad", then wants her now.

    Just a MESS...


    - Of course, "Come Together" is also one real headache to remember. I haven't found the key to remembering it yet, but find, strangely, that it still sort of works...but I have no faith in doing it right and not mixing up the lyrics, partial mixed verses.

    Lots of other songs, it still seems remembering even just ONE THING about each verse that is unique, helps a TON for remembering. Usually the first thing the first line concretely mentions (i.e. not "the" or "I was" or...but the subject of the first line each verse).

    This sounds harder than it is, but also...immensely helps when I have idle time just going quickly through the verses...when I get stuck, whip out the telephone and check.
     
  2. Gas-man

    Gas-man Unrepentant Massaganist

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    Good point about cryptic lyrics being hard to remember.

    The easiest songs for me are where the verses aren't interchangeable and it makes sense to do one before the other.
     
  3. Seegs

    Seegs Member

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    I am also new the frontman/singing thing and I have tried...oh how I've tried but I just don't have the focus or ability to remember lyrics...been going on 9 months now and I can't get through an entire song without looking...

    I can remember guitar parts all day long and even songs I havn't played in years but lyrics...fugedaboudit

    I went out and bought a small music stand that attaches to my mic stand and have no problem reading ahead while playing guitar...

    I know my guitar parts inside and out and because the guitar comes really easy to me it frees me up to concentrate on the lyrics...

    Chow,
    Seegs
     
  4. snoggin

    snoggin Member

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    OP is right about you cant learn with the lyrics in front of you.. You are still leaning on it.. the first word is the hardest then it will flow.. but you have to throw away the life preserver... If you are locked onto the lyrics the audience cant see your eyes and you will never connect and that is what brings the magic... If you are the frontman especially it is lame to rely on a music stand imho. The two dont mix
     
  5. BedroomRockStar01

    BedroomRockStar01 Supporting Member

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    My completely unscientific theory is that it's an innate ability you either have or you don't, to easily memorize lyrics that is. I can listen to a song once and have the major choruses/hooks memorized. 3-4 listens and I usually have every word down. I can't tell you why; they just stick. The same goes for my mom who used to constantly sing along in the car when I was a kid. My 8 year old brother also has it, which I picked up on when I was driving him around and he suddenly started singing along to The Smiths when he was 5. What 5 year old listens to The Smiths you ask? Only the coolest 5 year old you've ever met. :D

    However, I don't sing (outside of my shower or alone in my car), so this is a worthless talent. The singer for our band really struggles with remembering lyrics, including his own. He's a total music nut, but lyrics just don't stick with him as easily no matter how many times he listens to a song. Likewise, my wife couldn't name you a single word to any of her favorite songs. It's not a lack of intelligence or skill. I truly believe it's just a matter of some people having a gift to quickly memorize them without effort and others don't. If you're not one of those people, it's a struggle.
     
  6. Shiny McShine

    Shiny McShine Member

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    Actually, this whole ability to memorize lyrics is somewhat of a issue of lyric quality. I mean that the main reason for rhymes and meter is to make the phrases easy to remember. Songs by Cocteaux Twins which are essentially impressionistic would be very difficult.

    Also, the song's lyrics need to resonate with you somewhat or you're sunk. I'd take it as a sign that I couldn't remember lyrics that the song really isn't for me. Unfortunately, I can remember the entire lyrical content of We're Only In It for the Money but things that most people want to hear, I'm useless on.

    It's a cruel world sometimes.
     
  7. Dark Helmet

    Dark Helmet Member

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    if I write them out by hand a couple of times, I'm good to go... I can't even read my own writing, but it cements them in my head and all I might do is keep a crib-sheet of the subject of the first line of each verse (as OP suggests).

    stories are the best too... sooooo easy.
     
  8. Dr. Tweedbucket

    Dr. Tweedbucket Deluxe model available !!!11

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    Very good points. In the end it's just practice, practice, practice, some some of those tips can speed things along. I usually play the songs in my car and practice singing to them during my normal commute to work and back. It doesn't take too long to nail it all down.
     
  9. RupertB

    RupertB Supporting Member

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    Great points by the OP, especially writing the words down.

    My duo partner still uses a book for most songs. Between my solo, duo, & full band gigs, I've got lyrics for 250+ songs rolling around in my head.

    Agreed. I keep a book for "on request" tunes, particularly for songs with lots of lyrics that I don't play regularly (thank you, Bob Dylan).

    My sheet for American Pie looks like this:

    "A long long time ago

    But February made me shiver

    [Chorus]

    Did you write the book of love

    Well, I know that you're in love with him

    [Chorus]

    Now, for ten years we've been on our own

    Oh and while the king was looking down

    [Chorus]

    Helter skelter in a summer swelter

    Now the half-time air was sweet perfume

    [Chorus]

    Oh, and there we were all in one place

    And as I watched him on the stage

    [Chorus]

    I met a girl who sang the blues

    And in the streets the children screamed"
     
  10. S.W.Erdnase

    S.W.Erdnase Supporting Member

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    I've been through it. It's amazing how quickly you can memorize enough songs for four forty five minute sets. After that, you just add a new one every now and again.
     
  11. Brooks

    Brooks Member

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    actually, a guy i used to do acoustic gigs with was a drama major in college, he told me they learned techniques to memorize lines (or lyrics). we rotated 60-something tunes and he sung maybe 45-50 of them and never used a cheat sheet. i sang 10-15 and had to cheat on a few (w/ 1st line prompts on my setlist)... and yeah, "come together" was the hardest, i used a whole cheatsheet on that one, ha.
     
  12. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

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    I'm not trying to tell you what to do or argue with you, just to say it...but..

    It sounds like, when you write "without looking" to me means you have the words in front of you always and try to sing without looking. As I (and others agree here) have experienced, that won't work.
    It has to do with confidence I think (not sure though).

    I think the reason it doesn't work is, when I have the lyrics in front of me, "just in case", it is actually disrespect or a show of no confidence in me, to myself. My "self" knows this, and it shakes confidence. When you get scared or don't trust yourself, your mind has a tougher time doing the job.

    Seriously, last night I did a run through with the band with no lyrics sheet, just the setlist. To my surprise, I pretty much nailed the tougher songs, and also totally BLEW a song I thought I had down and didn't need to work on.
    GOOD. You gotta be willing to try, what's so terrible about singing (in rehearsal) and forgetting lines. Instead of a bad thing, it's a great thing as it points you to exactly which verse(s) you need to work on.

    I think people (me too) tend to not want to mess up, even in rehearsal, in front of the band. To me..it's the only way out.

    I can't explain how GOOD, and how CONFIDENT, and how much better I sing when I'm not reading. It's night and day.

    I really believe you could get it, just start with ONE song. Just ONE. Take the easiest one, and for that one song, close the book. When you have that (and you will! quicker than you could imagine), pick one more...easy ones. Worst case...you probably would be able to sing 70% of your setlist without lyrics sheets easily. The 30% rest, you will have gained confidence, and learned tricks to learn lyrics, and I bet you'd get the remaining 30% in not too long a time after. Getting to that point, and the whole process builds self confidence, and actually you learn how to memorize. The DOUBT is what kills you...the fear and doubt. If you ignore or minimilize the self-doubt, and also, think "it's not the end of the world if I forget a lyric...I can fake it, or repeat one", have a way out. The only way to do it though...is to do it.

    Problem with many folk I think is, they see it as all or nothing. Maybe also "look, if I am going to bring a music stand and lyrics sheet, what is the point of memorizing ANY of them?" but there IS one. If nothing else, to see if it really IS so much better you will want to do all songs without the sheets. You can't learn them all at once, so one by one though...

    Other great points in this thread. I really liked also the one about "if the song means something to you", totally agree.

    Even non-story songs, if you can get just some visualization, make a movie in your head even if it isn't telling a story, a handhold...it works.

    It was VERY good to not open the book last night. I think we had about 13 songs (one-hour set) and I was good on about 80% of the lyrics. We have a gig on Friday. I have two days to nail the bits that I found were missing last night. I'll do it.
     
  13. S.W.Erdnase

    S.W.Erdnase Supporting Member

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    It helps to write out the lyrics rather than download them. The act of writing them is part of the process. Then you should also listen to them in the car and at home.

    Finally, you need to practice singing them by yourself. Bash out the chords or whatever and sing along (and not to the CD). In other words, not just at the band rehearsal or at the gig.

    This is the same as language acquisition. God knows, I have bought and read every book I find on acquiring a second language and all the special exercises and tips - but at the end of the day there's no Holy Grail. The best way for me to learn vocab in Arabic is to memorise it, memorise it, memorise it. Repetition is key and there's no painless solution. Same with lyrics.
     
  14. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

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    Definitely. Agree totally with this too. Often you can be very effective (assuming you play electric guitar, in the band, etc.) to sit with an acoustic or unplugged, and go through...even not at the same tempo but slower, and sing. When you get stuck, look again at the lyrics (but don't have the lyrics in front of you after the initial "learning phase") see what the line you forgot is, see if there is something you can visualize, whatever, and put the lyrics away, start over.

    Keep doing that, and you'll have it. You can cut down the time, by either rushing through the parts where you don't sing, but I wouldn't cut them out completely, (say a signature phrase or hook that happens between verses) as they can trigger you to remember.
     
  15. Mwoodbro

    Mwoodbro Silver Supporting Member

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    Then, of course, if you are doing tight harmonies or singing an octive apart or in unison with a bandmate, then your phrasing must be spot on, also.
     
  16. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

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    Well....I overdid it. Worked VERY hard, right up to the day before our gig, and there was a point where I pretty much had the lyrics all down, just a few minor things still needed to have come quicker to me...meaning I could remember but somtimes not fast enough..not automatic yet.

    But then I overdid it, and felt that panic, to where even in practice, I was jumbling up lyrics.

    So I had to bring lyrics, use a music stand, off to the side, but really a letdown. I didn't refer to it very much at all, but felt like a pug for having it there...oh well. Next time, I won't have it with, and from now on only new songs in learning phase...I'll have lyrics ready, but not use with the band, and when I forget, or fumble, open the book up, find out where I went wrong, and do the song over again...it doesn't hurt the band to repeat a little either.

    The gig went really well. We were the first band, and I felt really good about our playing and sound, even my singing...was very happy, got a lot of compliments, and feeling good. Next band wasn't so tight, but fun to hear and I liked them. Then (our bass player is in all three bands, the second was kinda just "buddies" that get together and play stuff) the third band, three man band, and OH MAN....that guitarist had it all. He was really amazing...suddenly I wasn't feeling so good about our performance (or my playing)...it's silly but he was just in another league, a better one.

    Doesn't hurt, I really, really enjoyed that band, his playing, and it sure put me in my place. Realized I had felt a little too good about my playing and it definitely humbled me.

    It's good to get reality checks now and then.
     
  17. Ben Sp

    Ben Sp Member

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    This is a great thread! The worst is memorizing a song you don't particularly like
     
  18. tsar nicholas

    tsar nicholas Member

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    Yeah, it's tough. I have to sing a song about 20 times before I get the lyrics memorized, and even then, it's dodgy on occasion. Last gig we had, I forgot the last verse of "Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll"
     

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