How to learn a song by heart is something I’ve been learning about for a long time. I watch other performers play without chord charts and lyrics and I’m always impressed. This article summarizes my research and what I’m currently learning how to do better.
Familiarize yourself with the song
- Listen. I use apple music for this. However, Spotify is also a good choice. You’ll want to hear the song several times. Doing so will help you determine how long it might take to learn it by heart. Obviously, a more complex song or one with lots of words takes longer.
- Find the lyrics online. I remember the days when you had to keep picking up and setting down the needle on a record to do this. I’m so thankful today for the internet. Really just a few clicks and, whala, you have the lyrics. Search the song title in your browser and copy the lyrics into another document, or print them out if you like.
- Summarize the song’s meaning and the story behind it. Check out songfacts.com or songmeanings.com. The better you know the story and even how it was written the better you can learn how to learn a song by heart. If you perform live, knowing about the artist and how the song was written is something many audiences appreciate hearing about, too.
Breaking down the song into sections – how to learn a song by heart
- Identify the sections of the song into verse chorus and bridge. Map out the verse, chorus, bridge, and other parts of the song, if needed.
- Learn each section separately. It’s always easier to learn something when you break it down into smaller chunks. The same is true with how to learn a song by heart.
- Sing each section separately without words. Do this in order to pin down the melody, the part you will sing. Do one section at a time and then continue with the next section. A syllable like “la” is a good one to use.
- Sing each section separately with the words. This is definitely harder. Slow the tempo down enough to make sure you sing the right note.
Add your instrument – how to learn a song by heart
- Listen. This time listen for how the chords change and try to record their patterns. The better you are at this, the easier how to learn a song by heart becomes.
- Identify the beat and rhythm accents including time signature and tempo.
- Find the chords online. I use the ultimate guitar for this. There are others, too.
- Be prepared to correct what you find wrong with the chords online
- Learn each section separately with the chords. Practice from your map of the song. The chorus, then the verse and bridge. Practice the chorus until you can play the chords without looking. Do the same with each section of the song. Check your memory by playing through the song with the chords you found online.
Memorize the song
- Memory aids like flashcards can help. You might want to use your phone or an iPad to do this, depending on how comfortable you are with technology.
- Write down the first line of each section. This of this as a cue, instead of the whole lyric.
- Draw pictures if that helps you remember better. You may find it more helpful to draw pictures if you have that skill.
- Remove the memory aids. Here is the moment of truth. How to learn a song by heart can be measured by how much of the song can you sing and play without looking.
- Sing with the recording. The next step is to play the song with the recording. Do the best you can. Sometimes this is difficult because the song has been transposed or you are using a capo to help with singing in a better key.
- Sing without the recording. Finally, you are ready for this last step. Don’t rush it. Remember all your tools and how you used each one to get to this point. Congratulations! You did it! Questions? You can reach out to me on social media.