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Memorizing Your Music

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The pressure is real. We are all in a time crunch. If you and your music team are striving to be memorized on Sunday, let’s cover some tips and tricks that will get you memorized most efficiently.  But before we jump into the specifics of memorization, let’s talk a little about how to set your team up for success. The bottom line is the more songs you play each Sunday, the longer it will take your team to memorize them. I realize that as worship leaders, we must consider what is best for the service and our congregation. But I also think we need to consider the level of our team when we are deciding how many songs to play per service. Also, consider how frequently you introduce new songs. For my team, we introduce a new worship song about every 6-8 weeks. This seems to work well for our congregation and give our music team enough time to learn and memorize this new music. Now that you’ve set yourself up for success, let’s talk about some specific memorization techniques.

Lyrics

STEP 1 – Listen to the song and sing along learning the melody and the flow, if you don’t already know it.

STEP 2 – Take it a line at a time and memorize while you are doing something else. I always do my lyric memorization while I’m cooking dinner. At this point, you do not need to listen to the audio. Sing the first line until it is stuck in your head and then add the next line. Continue this process until you have verse 1 completely memorized. Move on to the next section of the song and repeat the process until you have the whole songs lyrically learned.

STEP 3 – Over the coarse of a couple of days, make sure you can sing the whole song in three different places. This may sound crazy, but if I learned a song in my kitchen, and I only practiced in my kitchen, when I get on stage at church I’m more likely to forget some lyrics. In order to more effectively memorize, I try for the kitchen, my car, and my living room while my kids are playing and see if I can sing the whole song. Definitely try singing the song through with distractions. We all know the congregation can be distracting at times causing us to stumble on our words.

Music

STEP 1 – Study common worship arrangements and learn the theory behind what you are playing. I realize this might be extra work for some of us. Trust me, the pay off is huge. It is so much easier to memorize instrumentation when you understand the ‘why’ behind it. If this idea seems intimidating, here are a few essentials to learn and get you started:

-Recognize the key of the song.
-Know the sharps and flats in each key.
-Understand how to build a chord.  Specifically, what changes from a major to minor, how to make a diminished chord, et cetera.
-Learn the numbers that go with each chord.  Nashville numbers or Roman Numeral Analysis, depending on who you talk to. (I, IV, V, etc…)
-Transpose a chord chart.

STEP 2 – Sharpen your ear. We already know that some people are naturally gifted in this area. But no matter what level you are at, you can improve. Here is my favorite ear game to play. Pick out a worship song to listen to and grab a piece of paper and a pen. Listen closely to the intro and verse 1 so you can get a feel for the tonic (I) chord. When the chorus hits, try and figure out what progression you are hearing and write it down. It might look like this: I, IV, VIm, V. Training my ear to recognize chord progressions was the biggest help for memorizing my music.

STEP 3 – Make note cards for each song to help you transition to memorization. You will not put the entire song on the notecard. Just make a shortened version to keep you on track while playing. After using notecards for a couple of months, I no longer needed them. They just helped me transition.

Laura's Notecards.  Note chord progression pattern and roadmap!

Laura’s Notecards. Note chord progression pattern and roadmap!

I sincerely hope that this helps you in memorizing your music.  It can be daunting, but the rewards are great.  Knowing your music before you step on stage frees you to be fully in the spirit of worship, without having to worry about what key we are in, what’s coming next, what the lyrics are; those are all distractions that can take away from the worship experience for you, your team, and your church.

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4 Responses to “Memorizing Your Music”

  1. I think it’s good to realize that you need to ACTIVELY try and memorize the music instead of passively. So many times we fall into the trap that if I listen to it or sing it enough I’ll have it memorized eventually. That is true, but you can shorten that time if you are mentally engaged in trying to memorize the music. Look at the sheet music or the lyrics and then try to play through it without looking, when you make a mistake look at the paper where you messed up then turn the paper back over and try again.

    I had to use this method while working as a singer one summer and by the end of the 10 weeks, I had memorized over 100 songs. It’s difficult at first but then you’ll be memorizing music lightning fast.

  2. Laura Blankenship September 22, 2015 at 11:40 am Reply

    Totally agree, Wes! Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is a great article. Memorization to me is just another part of doing this thing with excellence as unto the Lord. There are a lot of songs in our brains, I understand that. But I find it hard to “worship” while I am up on the platform if I am tied to a chord chart or the cheat screen. Memorization is very freeing and worth the extra effort.

  4. Great article! However, “STEP 3 – Over the coarse of a couple of days,” I think “coarse” should be “course”.

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