This article was originally written and published on worshipleader.com and can be viewed here
This is part 2 of a two-part series on lyric memorization. You can view part 1 here
In a previous article, “6 Reasons to Improve Song Lyric Memorization,” I make an argument for prioritizing the memorization of song lyrics as a worship leader.
In this post, I want to provide some practical ways to help you make the practice of memorization more profitable for you. These are a few things that have helped me along the way and if you are working to memorize lyrics, maybe they will help you too.
1. Memorize Regularly
Just like any skill that isn’t learned overnight, memorization must be practiced regularly. However, some of which we memorize isn’t necessarily voluntary memorization. Take your favorite childhood movie or the lyrics to one of your favorite songs. You may have taken the time to study and learn the words, but you probably didn’t. They probably came to you naturally, so don’t discount the value in repetition. Listening to a song on repeat may not feel like the most efficient way to learn the lyrics, but it is no doubt helping you even if you are only half-way paying attention. Listen on your commute or around the house.
2. Memorize While Exercising
Maybe this sounds crazy, but for me there is absolutely, without a doubt no better way for me to memorize lyrics than when I’m exercising! There have been numerous studies to prove that there is a direct connection between mild exercise and one’s ability to memorize information. Furthermore, studies point to vigorous exercise as being just slightly more beneficial than memorizing with no exercise at all. Next time you go for a brisk walk or light jog, set your mind on memorizing some lyrics and you find that it helps you out!
3. Speed Up the Song
As we all know, some songs are fast and wordy. For me, these songs tend to be more difficult to learn than others. On occasion, when I find myself struggling to get the words in order, I will intentionally sing and play the song even faster to allow myself to earn some margin between the speed at which I rehearse and the speed at which I will eventually lead the song. This has proven to be especially helpful when I’m accompanying myself on an instrument. After learning the lyrics at a higher rate of speed, I will spend some time tapering the tempo back to the original BPM so that I can comfortably sing and play it correctly with the band.
4. Knowing the Song Is More Than Knowing the Lyrics
I can’t stress this enough. There have been times when I started to memorize a song only to realize that I’ve not taken adequate time to internalize the meaning, story and narrative arc of the song. For me, there is tremendous value in thinking about the song from the point of view of the writer. What must the songwriter have been feeling when he or she wrote the song? What was the initial intention or message that they were trying to convey? How does my personal story line up with the lyrics to this song? If I can develop a deeper relationship with the song, it will always pay dividends in my ability to memorize it.
5. Use Your Imagination
Do you ever imagine the cinematic unfolding of a song’s lyrics in your head and what the situation looks like visually? Maybe I’m the only one! If I can imagine what the song is communicating in a visual way, it often allows me to memorize it more quickly. To take it one step further, whenever possible, learn the actual story behind the song.
The popular hymn “It Is Well” has been recorded time and time again. Each instance with a slightly different style and interpretation. I grew up singing this song and I still love it to this day. After singing it countless times, I never appreciated it more than when I learned the backstory.
After the devastating death of a young son followed by an enormous loss of property in the Chicago Fire of 1871 the writer, Horatio Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him on a vacation to Europe. Staying behind to take care of last minute business, Spafford received the tragic news that the ship his family was on crashed resulting in the death of his four daughters. As he traveled to England to be with his grieving wife, Spafford began writing this song while traveling on the same route that resulted in their daughter’s death.
After realizing this story, as leaders we can associate it’s meaning even greater as we understand the tragic reality of Spafford’s phrase “…when sorrows like sea billows roll.” After learning this story, my mind paints pictures of what Horatio Spafford must have seen as he took that journey putting pen to paper.
6. Practice With Your Instrument
I find that it is helpful to integrate my instrument into my rehearsal and memorization as quickly as possible. If you can set yourself up to rehearse with as many similarities to the service you’ll be leading, I think you’ll notice a more efficient process of learning and retaining information.
The brain is fascinating isn’t it? The way that God has given us the ability to learn to do something with one hand like play guitar chords while doing something completely different with the other like a strumming pattern is absolutely amazing! Learning an instrument takes hard work. Everyone knows that! Memorization takes hard work too and we need to train our brain in our rehearsal with all of the same tools that we will use when the pressure is on and other people are in the room.
If you are working on memorization, I hope some of these ideas are helpful. At the end of the day, we all lead differently and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I think God honors our desire to do our best with the mind and skills he’s given us. Whether that’s becoming a better vocalist, better leader, better counselor or better spouse, my prayer for all of us is that we will breathe in the reality that God’s love and grace is sufficient for us where we are and that our response will be an expression of using our gifts to glorify Him.