Five steps to lyric-learning

If like me you run a choir where you teach by ear using lyric sheets which are discarded for performance, you’ve probably come accross those groans and grumbles in rehearsal when you ask people to put the sheets aside.  The lyric sheet almost becomes a comfort blanket of sorts and singers often seem to be convinced that they cannot possibly sing without them.  Of course the sooner your singers can discard their lyrics the better as they are more likely to look at you the conductor and also start thinking about adding the performance element to the song.  I always like to remind members as performance dates start creeping up to think about lyric learning and in the run up rehearsals we start to put them down completely (although there are always still one or two people who can’t let go and fold them into tiny squares thinking I won’t notice)!

Here are five tips for you to relay to your singers on lyric-learning:

1.  Have a sing through your pieces without the words, you’ll probably be suprised how much you actually already know which will give you more confidence and also a good starting point on what learning is still to be done.

2.  Find some solitude away from distractions so you can completely focus on the music- perhaps send everyone out at home or go for a walk.  Take one of your song sheets and start to memorise the lyrics.

3.  When learning a song build it up in order.  Learn the first few lines and repeat until you have memorised them.  Then add on the next bit but keep returning and singing from the top so that you are building the lyrics up in order.  You will soon be word perfect.

4.  Make lyric learning fun and social – get together with some friends from choir and work on the songs together, this will help you to focus on the songs, build confidence and team spirit.

5.  Don’t be scared to put your lyric sheet down in rehearsals.  This is a great time to memorise the songs and in a rehearsal setting it really doesn’t matter if you get things wrong and it’s a great way for you to gauge what work still needs to be done.  Plus once you can put your sheet down you can really start adding the performance element in and enjoying the sounds around you rather than focusing in on the words.

If you run a similar type of choir we’d love to hear any further advice you might have on this subject.


Comments on Five steps to lyric-learning

  1. Avatar Karen says:

    I ask my choir to visualise pictures in their head that the words in the song create, so that it builds up a story. I find that visualisation really helps to learn lyrics.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Karen, a great tip.

  2. Avatar Jon Hind says:

    Many thanks for these tips;
    Good timing for us :)

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Jon, glad the tips have come in handy.

  3. Avatar edward says:

    I have learn t a lot from your site and it’s really helping me in my work. I would like to chat wit one of you or both on an idea I am harnessing, thanks.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Of course. What’s the idea, Edward?

  4. Avatar Elaine coates says:

    Great tried and true ideas, but my added suggestion is to learn a new song from both ends. Learn the first section , then the last section. Then the second (subsequently added onto the first) and the second last (subsequently added onto the last etc) till you meet in the middle.
    This has two benefits – firstly, you don’t have the “know the first part really well but less certain as I go along” syndrome and secondly, you are learning in segments that hold together. Then if you forget a bit, you have a solid start to the next bit.

    Another trick that works very well for strophic songs is “Train Stations” (or traffic intersections/rooms in my house etc). Mentally assign each verse to a specific part of a journey eg on the way to work or progression through the rooms of your house. Some people have even been known to physically walk round their house and sing the appropriate verse in that room.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Very interesting, thank you for your suggestions Elaine. The point you make about learning songs from both ends is something I haven’t come across but I know the situation you describe where singers are very confident at the beginning of the song then not so much around the middle – the second and third verses often tripping them up. Will give that one a try.

      The train stations idea is also interesting and I can imagine this working very well for some to help recall the verses in the correct order. We have a singer in our choir who does a similar thing imagining the song as a story and each verse as a step in that story which they can then put together as a whole.

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