Four Tips to Get Better at Memorizing

I remember standing shakily in front of the judges at a NATS singing competition. The accompanist began the prelude to the first aria in my set of songs, “Vedrai carino” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. All that was going through my mind was, “Will I remember the words?” I stood there, with my usual deer-in-the-headlights look on my face, and started to sing. When I got to the second half of the aria, my mind went blank. I shifted my weight back and forth between each foot, standing there awkwardly until the song was over. I had forgotten every word.

Unfortunately, that story is not the only time I forgot the words to a song. I used to struggle a lot with memorizing my repertoire. Over time, I discovered some tactics that completely changed the game for me. While forgetting the words still happens to me on occasion, as it does for everyone, it happens much less frequently now. If you are where I used to be, and have a difficult time memorizing, here are some tips to help you become solid in your memorization skills.

Quiz yourself often. How do you know you have formed a habit? If you can get it right over and over again on the first try. This applies to memorization as well. If you can get the words right in the first verse over and over again on the first try, you can know that you have that section memorized. When you start memorizing, try to see if you can get the words right in the section you’re practicing on the first try. If not, no worries! Keep practicing, take a break, and quiz yourself again. The more frequently you implement this memorization strategy, the quicker you will be able to sing without the sheet music!

Chunk it out. Do you find yourself simply singing through your repertoire over and over, and hoping this helps you remember the words? What if I told you that there is a more efficient way to memorize that will take less mental and vocal energy (as well as less time)? The answer is “chunking it out.” What does this phrase mean? It means to break up your song into parts, and work on memorizing those individual parts before putting it all together. I personally recommend memorizing the end of the song first. In the worst case scenario, it is better to forget the beginning of the song than the end, especially in an audition setting. That way you can finish strong! 

Get it into your body. Once you’ve picked the section you are going to memorize, break it down even further. Keep in mind that memorization in singing is rarely just remembering what words come next. The song becomes too logical and makes it difficult for you to connect with the audience when you are only singing words! Ask yourself, “What does the character want in this moment? What are they seeing? Who are they interacting with?” This will help you get this portion of the song into your body.

Another tactic I like to use is movement. What movement helps me remember this section? Does the music remind me of an upward motion? How would the character be moving around in this part of the song? Try walking around and using any movement that helps you stay present and connect to the character.

You won’t always struggle with memorization. Try implementing these tactics and see if they help!

Kylie Evans

Kylie Evans is currently a professor at Boise State University, where she teaches the vocal pedagogy course as well as voice lessons. She previously taught at NYU Steinhardt, where she received her MM degree in Vocal Performance, as well as her Advanced Certificate of Vocal Pedagogy. Before grad school, Kylie received her BM in Vocal Performance at Utah State University. For singing tips and tricks, you can follow Kylie on Instagram and TikTok at @kythevocalcoach.