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Memorizing lyrics

I am currently in a cover band and I have always had issues in memorizing lyrics of cover songs (especially those songs I do not like so much). The band is new and we had just 2 rehearsals... still other 2 to go and after that we will have a mini-gig in one private party. I have only 10 songs to learn for this Saturday, but I feel my mind can not memorize things so fast.
What's your opinion about singers keeping the lyrics on stage and looking at those once in a while when the mind goes blank?
I know it looks very unprofessional, but I do not see any other way to ensure I will not forget words..any advice is really appreciated:)


  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346
    edited October 2012


    My band has music stands onstage and we have lyric and chord books.  We have to, as we play well over a thousand songs, and counting.  We may or may not look at the books.  We play songs onstage that we've never rehearsed almost all the time.  In fact, in the last five years, we've only "rehearsed" twice and that was about 30 minutes each time without mics or amps.  We've played well over 500 paid gigs in that time period. 

    Don't sweat it. 

    Often, the security blanket of having the lyrics there will keep you from forgetting the lyrics.  Copy and paste the lyrics into a word processing program and use large fonts and bold formatting so you can see the lyrics from a distance.  Just don't make it so obvious you're looking at your charts, and keep eye contact with the audience as much as possible.

    Sure, it is more professional to sing from memory, but is Paul McCartney a professional?  He has a person under the stage turning the pages on a lyric book with a video camera pointed at it, because he can't afford to have a senior moment in front of 50,000 fans!  Many other superstars also use teleprompters, so don't beat yourself up if you need a cheat sheet or two.  That's why all television announcers use teleprompters.  Are they amateurs?  Will you look more professional if your mind goes blank while you are trying to impress people with your memorization? 

    What IS important is that you Get Out There And PLAY!!!! 



  • Virgy77Virgy77 Enrolled Posts: 6
    Hi Bob,
    I am not aware of the band in which you play/sing, is there any video of you somewhere online? Sounds like you have a great band, wow you must be a monster, thousands of songs with no rehearsal!!  I for sure trust your opinion.
    I totally agree with what you say. I will do my best to memorize, as also I have noticed if I know the lyrics by heart I can focus more on the singing itself. But still I am not going to give up my papers on stage (which I usually keep on the floor) and will follow your advice, will do a large font print, so that I can ensure I will be able to see the lyrics :)) Exactly, if superstars use the teleprompters, why should I (not really yet a superstar :D) act like a hero and risk my mind goes blank...

    Thanks a lot for your advices!!!

  • GuevaraGuevara Enrolled Posts: 140
    Hi Virgy77

    Interesting question; 

    I don't think it looks unprofessional to use lyric/music sheets if you can carry it off by making it look professional; An example of this would be the unplugged concert by Alanis Morrisette where she actually makes it part of the performance.

    Personally I always memorize songs before performing them in front of an audience. It can be difficult but once you have memorized about fifty songs it then becomes a lot easier to learn songs quickly and memorize them (I use a visualization method to remember lyrics). Also I only sing songs that I love to sing, however I realize that in a band situation you may not have complete control over the set list.

    In the end you should do whatever method works best for you and your performance.

    All the best with the gig!! let us know how things go!

  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346


    We don't have any videos up.  I'm sure we'll get around to it before too long. 

    We might not knock your socks off with our sound, but people seem to like us just fine without the rehearsals.  I've been in bands for many years and this one practices the least and plays the most!

    It's much more enjoyable to perform than to rehearse, and one live gig is worth about 20 reheasals when you are talking about a group developing a sound and a feel.  We just get out there and play.

    I like Gary's post about using visualizations to help embed the song in the mind. 

    Whatever works for you and makes you happy is good.

    Get out there and Sing!


  • Virgy77Virgy77 Enrolled Posts: 6
    Thanks Bob and Gary for your replies, that was helpful. Yeah the visualization method is very good, I usually picture myself a storyline when memorizing the lyrics.
    Anyhow I managed to memorize the 10 lyrics, still get some blank moments during the rehearsals so definitely tomorrow will keep my lyrics there on stage.
    Bob, would really like to have a band like yours in which we just go out and play, but I think I will need to practice still a bit more myself in order to be at the level of that kind of band:)
    Ok, need to go now to warm up, soon we will have another rehearsal...
    Take care,

  • JoshuaJoshua Member, Enrolled Posts: 106
    edited November 2012
    I have a couple of tricks. Here's what I do.
    I have the lyric sheet in front of me.
    I read 1 line or 1 complete thought.
    For instance. 

    We've all seen the man at the liquor store beggin' for your change
    The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
    He ask the man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
    Get a job you f***n' slob's all he replied

    So - the first thing is to chunk it down and build an association, something of your creation. The reason lyrics are difficult to remember in some cases is that you have no connection to the thought...they are just words without meaning. We actually learning by assimilating meaning, not storing information!

    We've all seen men at the liquor store begging for your change (meaning) picture of a bum begging, but not just a bum, a bum who's eyes I'm looking into.

    Then I anchor it with the most prominent word in the phrase to me - Liquor store. So I'll mark liquor store on the left of that first line.

    Keep moving - don't stay on that one line. We're building small meanings that build into a big meaning.

    The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange 

    (I'm still looking at the guy - so I see this in my mental picture) The word I picked "dreadlocked" the reason is, that while mange is the most memorable and most easily heard in the phrase, dreadlocked actually is the most unique part of the phrase, it's an uncommon word.

    He ask the man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes

    Now I picture the man he's asking, not the bum. "what he could spare or spare"

    Then what you have left if this.

    (liquor store) We've all seen the man at the liquor store beggin' for your change
    (dreadlocked) The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
    (spare)He ask the man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
    (slob) Get a job you f****n' slob's all he replied

    Now you cover up the lyrics and sing the whole phrase only looking at your keywords. Then remove the keywords. Then you have the song memorized - usually forever. All you should ever need is your keywords rather than the entire lyric sheet.

  • VoxVox Member Posts: 11

    I agree that it doesn't really matter that much, if you can still deliver a steller performance (vocal or showmanship).

    I've noticed (and have used myself), people using their IPAD's now for this. 
    Some have it sitting by the drummer, for a quick reference while moving around, and others have it on a stand or rigged on the floor monitor for a more line by line read..

    As long as you are having fun, the audience is having fun.. ;-)

  • ragnarragnar Pro Posts: 410
    edited December 2012
    Well I'm gonna go ahead and respectfully disagree here. For me it's a big drawback if the artist infront of me has to keep looking into a lyrics sheet, just like it is much less engaging for someone to read you a story compared to actually telling you a compelling story.

    However, there is obviously a big difference between being a cover band with a huge repertoire - even more so if you take random requests from the audience - and an artist playing your own material. 
    The former it would make sense to have chord/lyric-books at the hand to check up on songs in between numbers, but I still think that even in that case it would be far from optimal to sing continuously from a sheet.
    Now clearly it's better to sneak some peeks at the lyrics than flat out forget them while singing, but I would personally feel that I wasn't performance ready if I couldn't remember my 10-15 song setlist easily by heart.

    PS: McCartney would of course be an acceptable exception from this since he's like 70-years-old by now.
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