Why You Should STOP Using Lyric Sheets To Learn Songs ASAP

Act 2 Scene 1Whether you’re working with a choir, praise team, group or even if you’re a solo act, chances are you’re experiencing (or have at some time or other) trouble remembering the lyrics and keys to new songs. This is an especially common issue in Gospel music ministries where sheet music is almost never used. Often it can really take a while to get both the lyrics and the harmony locked in and memorized. Even once it seems like you finally have it down at rehearsal, many groups find that they have forgotten much of it by Sunday morning.

One thing choir directors and Music Ministers do to help keep the rehearsal moving along and assist with the learning process is to pass out lyric sheets. Ironically though, lyric sheets do much more to cause the problem than they do to fix it. I’d say the single most effective thing you can do to cut learning time and improve retention is to STOP using lyric sheets at your rehearsals.
Lyric sheets are a “mental crutch” of sorts because they cripple your ability to memorize the lyrics and melodies that are being sung to you. Think for a minute about the way we learned things as a child. Consider the alphabet, for example. Most of us already knew the alphabet way before we got to kindergarten. For a child It’s 26 random letters in no particular order. And most of us never saw it in print until we got to kindergarten. Wouldn’t matter anyway, because we couldn’t read!

So how did we learn the alphabet, some of us before we could even talk? That little song, of course. Our parents sang that little song over and over to us. To our brains, the letters and the melody they were sang over became one inseparable thing. We are only able to recite the alphabet now without music because we learned that song first. If you don’t think so, try saying them backwards right now. You’ll be able to do it but you’ll have to put much more thought into it than going forward. Why? There’s no backward alphabet song, lol!

If you were blessed enough to be a kid during the School-House Rock era you can think of all kinds of things you know today because of those songs they sang to us every Saturday morning. But here’s the amazing thing; you still know those songs decades later! Go ahead, sing “We The People”. How about “Conjunction Junction”? Go ahead, I’ll wait. 🙂

The unique thing about learning songs in particular is that process I mentioned earler where your brain actually uses the melody to memorize the lyrics, and vice-versa. Place a lyric sheet in front of you and the process is interrupted. First of all your brain will not make the effort to memorize lyrics as long as you have them in front of you.

That beautiful process our brain does without lyrics- that marrying of words and melody into one inseparable thing- gets “separated” by lyric sheets. When you’re looking at the words as they’re being sung to you your brain focuses less on the melody so you tend to have a harder time memorizing your part. But you also have a harder time memorizing the lyrics because they’re right in front of you. So your brain just reads instead of memorizing.

Then the instructor goes back over your part again, only now you can’t remember the words without looking at the lyrics. They have a way of switching your brain off. In fact chances are you’ve found yourself looking at a lyric sheet and not even really focusing on the words in front if you. Or tried to follow along on a lyric sheet while you listened to the song and actually having trouble keeping up. Or looked at a lyric sheet when you already had the words memorized, just because it’s in front of you. So lyric sheets actually do much more to slow down the song learning process than they do to speed it along.

Left to do its work as God designed it, our brain uses the melody to teach us the words and the words to remember the melody. So when you get up Sunday morning to sing a new song, nervous because you think you’ve forgotten the words, it all comes flooding back as soon as you hear the band start the intro. Then the director mouths just the first 2 or 3 words and there it is. the whole song, words and parts, ready to burst forth.

To be sure, there are certain situations when having lyric sheets is practical. Mass rehearsals where you must cover a large number of songs, for instance. If you have 10 songs to rehearse it makes sense to have the lyrics just to keep things moving. Even then though, you should be strongly encouraging the group to use them as little as possible and move away from them completely once you’ve gone over all the material enough that everyone should be familiar.

So whether you’re the person responsible for teaching new material or just a member of the choir or group, using lyric sheets as little as possible is the fastest way to dramatically speed up the song learning process and improve retention. Try it at the next rehearsal and let me know how it goes!

4 ways to memorize lyrics without a lyric sheet

Duh I forgot something 52-4Well gang, not even a month after our last big Family & Friends musical for the sanctuary choir, we are back at it again preparing our junior choir for their own annual Family & Friends musical. This year I decided to eliminate lyric sheets for reasons I spelled out in great detail in my article Why you should stop using lyric sheets to learn songs ASAP .

So today I thought I’d offer a handful of tips I use to help memorize lyrics with no lyric sheets have been made available.

Break It Into Sections

This is actually one of the very first things I do when I’m studying a song to prepare myself to teach it. Breaking a song into sections gives you a smaller amount to have to memorize all at once. Try memorizing, for example, just the 1st verse. Then moving on to to the next section. Each time you’ve memorized a new section though, it’s important to go back and sing through from the beginning to the end of the last section you just memorized.

 Look For The Rhyming Words

The lyrics in most songs rhyme at some point. Paying attention to where those rhyming words happen in each line or stanza can help you remember lines. Using this method you know which words will have words in the next line that rhyme with them. This can be very effective at helping you remember the next line.

Connect With The Message/Story

Spend some time really internalizing the song’s message.  It is one thing, for example, to try to memorize a block of text. However when that block of text tells a story or make a point you can identify with from your heart, it’s a lot easier to remember it because now it you have an emotional and/or spiritual connection to it.

Use The Natural Rhythm And Cadence Of  The Lyrics

Every song’s lyric has a rhythmic flow. Places where it locks into the beat of the music, places where there are natural pauses, etc. These can be very instrumental (pun intended, lol) in helping you memorize song lyrics. For example, the following stanza would take you longer to remember if you approached it this way:

I believe the storm will soon be over. I believe the rain is gone away. I believe that we can make it through it. Oh, I believe it’s already done.

But watch how the pattern jumps out at you when you pay attention to the natural pauses and repeats as they are delivered in the song:

I believe

The storm will soon be over

I believe

The storm is gone away

I believe

That we can make it through it

Oh, I believe

It’s already done

Even though the lyric “looks” longer this way, you can see how much more natural and rhythmic it is. It stands out even more when you’re actually listening to the song.  These for tips are by no means an all-inclusive list of all the methods available out there, but they’re a good start. During my research for this article though, I came across a fantastic article that includes a much more exhaustive list of tips. I definitely recommend taking a look if this is something you struggle with. You can find that article here.





2 letters of the alphabet every choir, praise team and group should pay special attention to

Scrappy alphabet patchwork quilt.So your choir went forth Sunday morning and God came in and blessed in a mighty way. People were on their feet, shouting, crying, clapping and dancing.

But then after church something rather peculiar happened. People were coming up to you showering you with kudos about the awesome job you guys did and how they were blessed by the selection. Which is great…until almost in the same breath the person asks “what were you guys saying? I couldn’t understand most of it.”


The first time this happened to me I found it very disturbing, honestly. I mean the whole point of all this is to minister God’s word through song. It’s all about the message. If the people don’t understand what we’re saying, we’re just wasting our time, aren’t we?
Now, it’s obvious that if people are being blessed spiritually then they are clearly understanding at least some parts of the lyrics-certainly enough to resonate with them deeply…….right? I mean, they ARE shouting because they understand what we’re saying…RIGHT?? God I hope so. I suppose that’s a subject for another blog.

But either way, if we’re being honest about it, quite often a good deal of what the choir sings often gets by much of the audience. Directors and music ministers all over the world understand this. So week after week at rehearsal after rehearsal they encourage their choir members to enunciate words more clearly.

And we do try, don’t we? But quite often the changes just don’t stick. That’s largely because it just feels so different. It’s a challenge to sing words and phrases with exaggerated diction when you’ve done the opposite for so many years.

It goes without saying though, that this is an issue that simple MUST be addressed. It is absolutely mandatory that the audience understand what we’re saying if ministry is to be effective. Otherwise we’re singing in vain. So today I want to share an easy way to make dramatic improvement in your choir’s clarity and diction. In fact this is so easy to do that the members will be much more receptive to it, so it’s something they’re more likely to keep doing.

Change 2 Letters, Change Your Sound

In the English alphabet there are consonants that we call “explosive consonants”. They are called this because when you pronounce them your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth briefly,creating a small build-up of air. When pronounced correctly, that build-up is released kind of like a small “explosion” out of your mouth (hence the name). There are several consonants that can qualify for the title “explosive”, but there are two in particular that are most important because they are so much more commonly used than any of the others. They are the letters D and T.

These letters most often come at the end of words, but in Gospel choirs they are seldom actually pronounced. We usually just kinda slide right over them or leave them off the word altogether. The “D” in words like “and”, for example, are almost always left off entirely. The letter “T” at the end of words like “wait” are pronounced improperly when they are pronounced at all. Simply emphasizing that your choir or group fully pronounce the D’s and T’s makes an amazing difference in clarity and diction that you can hear instantly.

I’m not talking about taking words like “and” and “wait” and making 2 syllables out of them (not and-DUH, or way-TUH). We’re just talking about making sure the letters are actually pronounced and that little explosion is actually allowed to happen.

This can be a bit more challenging on faster songs, but faster songs tend to be the most misunderstood because we tend to slur over words most on those. So it’s well worth the small effort and much easier than some other methods to do and stick to.

So mind your Ds and Ts! You’ll not only get a much cleaner, more easily understood sound from your words, but your sound will project further into the room without any additional effort.

Need more help training your group to enunciate clearly? Check out How To Enunciate Clearly In Just 2 Steps.