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5 tips for memorizing songs

Cameron, in Music lessons
Feb 24, 2021 | 2 min read

As musicians, we rely heavily on tablature or sheet music. However, there are scenarios where we have to memorize entire pieces for performances, auditions or other occassions.

It is important to develop the skills necessary to successfully memorize music and perform it by heart. This prevents performance anxiety, mistakes and general stress. Here are some tips you can use to memorize songs more effectively.

greyscale photo of man playing spinet piano close-up photo
  1. Repetition

This goes without saying, but repeatedly playing the piece you are trying to memorize will help imprint the notes in your memory. Play the piece as many times as you can. Listen to the song during your commute, or while doing chores. Make sure that you are familiar with every part of the song and can easily play it in your head. 

  1. Understand the song’s structure

While repetition goes a long way, it does not completely eliminate the possibility of you forgetting what to play when you’re under the intense pressure of a performance. In this case, having a fundamental understanding of the song itself can do wonders. For example, if instead of simply memorizing the notes and where they are on the fretboard, you understood the root chord of every bar, you will be able to improvise and come up with the right notes on the spot, even if you forget what to actually play. For example, if you are playing a song from memory and can’t remember what to play next, knowing that the next chord is A will help you position your fingers in the right spot. So whatever you play next won’t sound off, even if it isn’t note for note.

  1. Split the song into smaller sections

By breaking the song into smaller parts, you can make each part easier to memorize and put together. Divide the song into its main components, eg. verse, chorus and bridge. You can even split it up into smaller components if you want. Memorize each component separately and then put them all together.

  1. Start early and take your time

Memorizing music takes time. If you try to cram it all in the night before, you probably won’t be able to finish in time, or imprint it in your long term memory. Try to start as early as possible, and take it slowly so you don’t stress yourself out by rushing. Set aside a portion of time each day to work on memorizing the song.

  1. Practice playing from memory in front of an audience

Whether it’s your family, friends, or bandmates, going through the motion of reciting a piece from memory will help yourself get used to the idea of not having sheet music during the actual performance. This will go a long way towards improving your confidence and reducing anxiety. If you’ve done it before, you can do it again.

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