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How to Memorize Song Lyrics

Updated on December 29, 2012
Don't be embarrassed when you get up to sing — memorize the song lyrics first!
Don't be embarrassed when you get up to sing — memorize the song lyrics first! | Source

Is there a super-popular song that you love, but you just can't remember the lyrics? Do the words on your karaoke machine move too fast for you to follow along? Maybe you want to sing folksongs around the campfire, but end up singing "la la la" after the first verse of Kumbaya. Whatever your trouble is, here are some tips that will help you impress your friends with your awesome song lyric memorization powers.

Misheard Song Lyrics

If you're a sucker for misheard song lyrics, check out this archive that's been collecting them for more than 15 years!

More Misheard Lyrics

Find the Correct Lyrics

The first thing you're going to want to do is find the CORRECT lyrics to the song you want to memorize. There's nothing more embarrassing than boasting about your knowledge of the lyrics to a song, only to find out that you've been singing it wrong all along. In front of how many people did you belt out "Let's pee in the corner" when singing "Losing My Religion" on karaoke night? It may be cute when a toddler sings "She's got a chicken to ride" along with Beatles' Rock Band, but it sure isn't cute when an adult does.

You can go to an online site for lyrics, but they often contain mistakes. The best way to find accurate lyrics is to go old school and look in the CD liner notes. (I know, nobody buys CDs anymore!) Some artists include digital booklets with music downloads, so you may get lucky that way. You can also check a band's website; some may have a page for song lyrics, at least for their most popular songs.

Failing that, listen to the song obsessively, preferably with headphones on in a quiet room. If you focus, you'll be able to decipher the correct lyrics most of the time (unless you're listening to the Pogues).

500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics (Dover Books on Music)
500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics (Dover Books on Music)

If you're looking to memorize an old standard or folksong in the public domain, a book like this is your best bet for the lyrics.

 

Listen to the Song Over and Over Again

Chances are that if you had to resort to writing down the lyrics to a song yourself, you've already got it mostly memorized. The act of repetition will fix the lyrics in your brain. There's no set formula for how many times you have to listen to the song, read the lyrics, or sing along; some people find that a particularly catchy tune will lodge in their head after only a few times. For tricky, fast-paced lyrics or really long songs, read the lyrics while listening and singing along at the same time. Using several senses at once helps ensure that your whole brain is engaged in the task.

Use Mnemonics

A mnemonic is a memory device that helps you remember something else. It is often an acronym or short poem, but sometimes it's a song (like using the alphabet song to remember alphabetical order).

  • The rhyme at the end of each line can act as a mnemonic device, helping you to remember the next line.
  • If a song tells a story, such as just about any song from Harry Chapin's oeuvre, outline the story in your head to keep the lyrics straight. (E.g., "Cat's in the Cradle": Boy is born; dad travels; chorus; boy turns 10; dad's too busy; chorus; boy in college; turnabout; chorus; dad is retired; boy's too busy; chorus.)

But if all else fails, scrawl some notes on the inside of your arm. What does it matter if you cheat a bit? Singing should be fun, not stressful like a final exam!

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    • J Golschneider profile image

      Justin Golschneider 3 years ago from Vermont

      Good advice! I find that listening and reading the lyrics at the same time, like you recommended, works really well. I can usually memorize the words to an average-length song after doing that just three or four times.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 3 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Hi, Glenn. Repetition doesn't have to be work. Set your iPod on repeat and sing along in the car a few times while you're running errands. Before you know it, the lyrics will be engrained in your head forever!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I like to sing karaoke and I have the melody of songs clear in my mind. But I always have trouble with remembering the lyrics and have to have them in front of me when I sing.

      Your idea of using repetition is a good one. I know that should work and I'll have to try that with a few of my favorite songs. Repetition is always a great way to force anything to be ingrained in our brain.

      You are so right about some of those lyric sites having the wrong words. I've found a few with silly renditions as well.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      That misheard lyric still cracks me up, even though it happened years ago. I hope my tips help you sing in the New Year!

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      "She's got a chicken to ride!" I love that! What an interesting idea for a hub, and something that will definitely come in useful for us wanna-be singers. :)