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Do I Really Need to Memorize?

Dear Leo,

I have real trouble remembering lyrics, especially when I’m nervous. I’ve seen a few singers performing gigs with the music in front of them and I was wondering what your opinion is about that? Is it really so bad? Or, maybe you have some advice on how to improve my memory?

Best wishes,


Dear Kathy,

Having trouble with learning words is an experience of many singers – and nerves certainly don’t improve the situation.

I think it is very important to have the lyrics memorized as it frees you to be a more creative singer, and to “sculpt” your song as you are singing it.

If a singer has their head stuck in the music, it can be very difficult to connect truthfully and creatively to the text and the power of the music, let alone their connection to the audience and their own body.

Here are some tips on learning lyrics:

* Say the lyrics out loud. By doing this you are adding “muscle memory” to your efforts. Think of those songs you can already sing while performing another task requiring thought. These songs are so firmly embedded in your muscle memory (tongue etc.) that you can go on automatic pilot.

* Perform it Once. I always say that you don’t know a song until you have performed it once. If you have a public concert, organize a little private concert for friends first. I know many famous singers who give small “family and friends” concerts before they go on tour. Annie Lennox has done this and always drinks ginger, honey and lemon tea backstage!

* Write it Down. Write your lyrics down in a little notebook you can fit in your pocket. Get this out while you are waiting for the bus or in a queue. If you whittle away at the task of memorizing, it will be much less arduous than doing it all in one go.

* Lie on the floor and slowly speak through the text. Engage in some word painting – imagine images for every word.

* Underline. Speak through the text and underline the words you would emphasize in speech with a pencil. The same words should be emphasized when you sing. Don’t get caught emphasizing a weak syllable in a musical phrase just because it lands on a high pitch. Weak syllables on high pitches should float/decay.

* Work out your objective in the song. How does your character transform throughout? Make a mind map of the emotional journey in the song. Emotional repetition is boring. Find different choices. Think about how the lyrics connect to situations that you have experienced yourself.

If you try out some of these tools, you should find your lyrics much easier to remember as you are truly connected to them.

Your confidence will grow.

The more you remember, the easier the process of memorization becomes.

Don’t be put off if it is difficult in the first few days. Your memory will improve if you stick at it!

Good luck!


  • maxGuest

    or, have a pc monitor strategically placed in front of you by the stage edge, with lyrics running on a Pdf.

    All that sounded terribly new-age to me.

  • Hannah Karoshi

    I don’t think it sounds new age at all Max-what Leontine has suggested are helpful practical solutions that will help Kathy with all aspects of delivering a powerful and confident performance- a pc monitor won’t necessarily deliver that. I’ve noticed this is the second critical comment you have made with little reason for doing so- some of us appreciate the knowledge and insight these professionals are kindly sharing with us (and for free!) so please keep them coming Leontine!!xx 

  • M@

    How does lying on the floor help your memory?