How to Memorize Lyrics, Chords and Chord Progressions

                                            photo from IstockphotoCool time
One of the things I have always had a hard time with is memorizing lyrics. I see this in people around me as well; finding it difficult to memorize chords and chord progressions. So based on my experience and some research I’ve done I give you some tips to overcome this obstacle.

But why do we need to memorize and remember lyrics and chord progressions? What’s the use of that?

Well, let’s say one of these days you’ll have to perform in front of an audience somewhere, somehow.
Maybe with a band or on your own…

  • or a friend asks you to perform a few songs at his wedding or birthday party…
  • or you would like to accompany a singer…
  • or you want to play some nice songs to entertain a few people on a holiday in the south of France while drinking a cold beer…
  • or just to try out a guitar in the guitar shop in town.

Wouldn’t it be nice by then, if you could just play something right on the spot instead of saying “I can’t do anything without having my sheet music in front of me”.

Another advantage is that you train your memory to remember music. The more often you try to remember lyrics and chords the easier it gets and the faster you’ll learn.
You also create freedom in your playing. You’re not stuck to a piece of paper and it will definitely make you a better guitar player.

Here are some suggestions:

-Use your senses
Use as much of the five traditional senses as possible: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. Your senses are very close attached to your memory. For example: you probably remember exactly from years ago where you were and what you did when you listened to your favorite songs.

-Visualize the song
Our brain thinks in pictures. So when we want to memorize lyrics we need to figure out what the song is about and visualize the story in our heads so we can relate to it. Visualize a story that really affects you so you get emotionally touched by it.

-Feel the song
When you sing lyrics, sing them with heart and soul. Try to feel what you are singing about instead of summing up just a bunch of words. When you feel the song, you are much more likely to remember it because you are using your senses.

-Connect the sentences
Search for the links and relationships between the sentences. What does one sentence say and what does the next one have to do with it.

-Associate the lyrics…
…with your own memories and past experiences. In other words: associate something new with something you already know. The brain likes to work that way.

-Small chunks
Break up a long text into chunks and memorize these one by one. Repeat the first chunk a few times before moving on to the next.

-Make it absurd
Make the visualization absurd. We tend to remember absurd things. Let’s take a sentence from the song “Hotel California” from the Eagles. For example: “Her mind is tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes Benz”. If you visualize an enormous brain (like really really big) twisting pop singer Tiffany (from the pop song: “I Think We’re Alone Now” in the late 80′s) while driving a Mercedes Benz, you probably won’t forget it. Maybe you think it’s a bad example… I suggest you create your own absurdness. The point is: if you read a sentence you can’t relate to at all, make it ridiculous.

-Keywords
Memorize key words that trigger other words. I always try to memorize the first word or two words in a verse or chorus. If I remember these, the rest will follow by itself. Or try to remember the most important word in the sentence to trigger the other words.

-Be alert
Make sure you are alert. Memorize the lyrics when you had enough sleep instead of when you are tired. Maybe it’s a good idea to do this in the morning opposed to learning it after a busy day at work.

-Be interested
Be interested in the story of the writer. What is the story about? Can you relate to it? Are there words in the lyrics you don’t understand? Look them up in a dictonary. Feel the story. Live it while you sing it.

-Repeat
One of the best ways to memorize lyrics is repeating them. Repeat the lyrics frequently during the day for at least a week or so if you want it to access your long-term memory.

-No distractions
Make sure you are not distracted. Lose all internal and external distractions:

  1. External distractions: turn of your TV, radio, internet, etc, etc. Go to a room where it’s quiet and people can’t interrupt or distract you.
  2. Internal distractions: are you worrying about things like your job, relations or just little things? Try to put them out of your mind or work them out.

-Use your waiting time
Memorize while you are waiting: while you’re in traffic, driving your car, waiting in a doctor’s office, while you are cooking, etcetera. You can use this precious time to work on your repertoire.

-Chords
When I started out playing guitar, I liked to see chords as shapes and objects. It’s a fast way of memorizing. Think of a D-chord as a triangle. Think of an A-chord as a little staircase going down, think of a Bm-chord as a staircase going up etc, etc. Sometimes I still do this with difficult chords. Because I’m used to think that way, I also remember difficult shapes more easily.

-Chords progressions
The same with chord-progressions. If it’s possible, try to see them as shapes and objects. For example when I play a chord progression like Am (577333), C major (x35553), G major (355433) and D major(x57775), I picture it like crossing the street diagonal from Am to C. Then I go up to G and then I cross the street again to D major. Try to see the logic behind the chord progression.

-One at a time
Again with chord progressions: break them up into chunks. First learn the verse. Break it down into phrases. A lot of times you play the same chord progression over one or more of the phrases. Maybe even the whole verse. Practice the verse a few times so you feel comfortable with it. Now go to the pre-chorus or chorus and again break it into chunks. One chord progression at a time and try to see the logic behind the chords and chord progressions.

Now go memorize your favorite guitar songs and amaze people!

Don’t forget to write a comment. :-) I’d appreciate it.

If you like this post, please share it on Stumbleupon. I'd appreciate it.

    27 Responses to “How to Memorize Lyrics, Chords and Chord Progressions

    • ray bonelli:

      hi again this is very usefull I have to perform at work in a couple of weeks so I am practising and practising … I don`t know yet Should I play acoustic or electric.

    • Hi Ray, thanx for the comment.

      Playing acoustic and electric can both be very exciting.
      When I have to perform alone I prefer acoustic. With a band electric can also be very really cool.

      I wish you good luck with your performance at work!

      Klaus Tol

    • Jerry Tan:

      Hi Klaus,

      Great ideas.
      Your way of memorizing chord progressions is also very helpful.

      Work to be done. Thanx a lot!

      Jerry

    • Hi Jerry,

      My pleasure!

      A lot of the suggestions to memorize lyrics work for chord progressions as well.

      Klaus Tol

    • jasmin:

      gud u r the champ man….GOD bless u

    • Hi Jasmin,

      I am sure it will work out for you.

      Klaus

    • It seems like you’re producing issues your self by trying to clear up this issue instead of taking a look at why
      their is a issue in the initial place

    • Hi Kourney,

      That’s a nice psychological answer. I would really like to hear your thoughts on what would be the issue in the initial place.

      I look forward to receiving your reply.
      Klaus Crow

    • William Kertesz:

      Thanks for the tips. I have been playing acoustic guitar in a church for the last 2 years ,relying on sheets to keep me straight..it’s a lot of work to memorize and retain. does it really get that much easier the more you memorize ? this is the biggest hurdle to go over so far .looking forward for your reply.

    • Just discovered your website through stumbleupon. Gonna read through every post now! Awesome stuff!

      I just finished my school exams and have the longest summer of my life ahead of me.

      Now that you’ve inspired me my goal is to become the a confident, improvising, song-writing acoustic guitarist

      Thank you!
      Gregg

    • Rod:

      I came upon your website through you tube,thankyou for all your lessons ,this is a awesome. Now I know i will make great progress.

    • Very Helpful, I don’t play any instrument but, I love to sing and rap.
      It’s like when I just say the lyrics there great but I forget. An have to write down something else and it takes forever. I work faster when I just say it but I won’t ever get those lyrics back.

    • This is the best article I’ve seen on the subject of memorizing lyrics. I’m definitely going to make my readers aware of it.

      Thanks!

    • [...] Even though the lyric “looks” longer this way, you can see how much more natural and rhythmic it is. It stands out even more when you’re actually listening to the song.  These for tips are by no means an all-inclusive list of all the methods available out there, but they’re a good start. During my research for this article though, I came across a fantastic article that incluse a much more exhaustive list of tips. I definitely recommend taking a look if this is something you struggle with. You can find that article here. [...]

    • pringlepoacher:

      Good info. Remember that you will be hit with the most obscure requests and if you can associate songs that you have learned in the past, but haven’t played in a while(those are a killer to remember). Just try to get the chord progression. There is always a “trick” chord thrown into most songs. If you can get close and someone starts to sing, it can jog your memory.

    • Hi – Ive had problems for years (20++)trying to remember lyrics and I play / gig quite regularly. It really is like an albatross round my neck and causes me some real grief and can upset what should be an enjoyable activity.
      I came across this info having “Google searched” and will try some of your techniques out – heres hoping!.
      Cheers, Mike.

    • Good set of tips – each one seems to help you memorize things using different methods so at least people can try different combinations to see what works for them.
      Apparently it takes at least 20 repetitions before your brain starts to memorize it. So an easy way to start the process would be to repeat the chord progression 20 times in a row. This will also help the fingers memorize the changes between the chords.
      Practicing along with a metronome is another method of encouraging memorization as it forces you to play without stopping and think of what chord comes up next.
      Excellent tips, I’ll pass these on to my students.

    • Mike Ofiesh:

      I like to print the lyrics out in the exact structure of the song with the chords written on top as they are on a website. It’s my cheat sheet. I never use this when I perform. I take this with me in my car or when I am waiting at DMV for example. I sing the song and think of the chords. when i get stuck I look at the printed version. I can’t drive or bring my guitar to DMV so this let’s me practice throughout the day. just listening to the song is the least efficient way to learn the chords and sing. Playing to the song does not help either. You have to be able to play it on your own. If it sounds good there it will sound good in perfomance. The printed version lets your brain see an image of lyrics and chords….using your senses! We all learn differently. Some may learn fastest by writing the lyrics with the chords. But you have to test yourself with out using anything at first. You have to really practice it and not rely on the Karaoke show. When you have an ipod on your brain wanders and the lyrics don’t sink in. how many times have you heard a song that’s been around for years and you have heard it a thousand times. Try singing it without it being on in the background. It’s hard.

    • Brian:

      Great idea for chord progressions. Have been learning songs by forced repetition, thinking of them as shapes like directions to a location really helps!

    • Paul:

      Some really cool tips. Great site!

    • Clóvis:

      It’s funny, cause I forget some songs even after having playing it thousands of times.

      I’ll try your tips, and I appreciate your help.

      Regards

    • Manuel:

      I try and try again and again.

    • Veryy energetic article, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

    • I’m really loving the theme/design of your web site.
      Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility problems?
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    • Paulo:

      Well, but, if we are at a party and I start to play the axoustic guitar, people will ask for more and more and it is kind of hard to remember so many musics, which chord comes next, etc.

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