Number 3, May 15, 2021
Last time I wrote about the uses and definitions of muscle memory. This time I’d like to talk about memory itself, specifically, how to use your memory to memorize your songs. And not surprisingly, muscle memory is a big part of it. I wrote last time:
“Make a point to memorize your songs, and you will feel the balancing act between using muscle memory and soaring on the wings of your imagination to find the heart of the story.”
Memorize Your Song!
You might think it’s impossible to actually memorize the lyrics to an entire song, but it’s not. Just like playing an instrument, the mouth and mind develop “muscle memory” for remembering lyrics. No matter what level you are in singing, you can begin anytime with memorizing a song. You’ll also find that the song’s meaning can become clearer to you in the process, and you become a much more sophisticated storyteller, once you know a song “by heart.”
Method for Memorization
Start with your lyrics printed in front of you, on a music stand, desk or table. Play and/or sing the song while reading the lyrics, only one stanza or section, using a recording if you can easily stop it and re-wind when necessary. Then test yourself by looking away from lyrics, again, one stanza at a time. Again: sing the stanza while looking, then sing it without looking. Repeat this process of learning, testing, learning, until the song is memorized. You will build on each stanza as you have the last one learned, i.e., sing/test stanza 1. Sing/test stanza 1 and 2, and so on.
Tricks to Aid Memorization
The real key to memorization is repetition. Remember how we learn songs when we’re kids in school or at home with singing it over and over? If you have the song recorded, either by yourself or another artist, play the recording of the song and sing along until you start to feel you know it. In random moments, run the words by yourself until they become second-nature. This will establish your muscle memory. Random moments can be anything: in the shower, walking the dog, cooking, cleaning, doing yard work, driving, waiting at stop lights. If you have the phone app Voice Memos, sing and make a recording of the song that you can then work with.
Remember: you’re telling a story! Consider the sequence of events in the song as telling a story to yourself. See the sequence of events in the song as a chronology as you memorize, like watching a movie! Envision the words on the page that you used to learn them. “Read” them in your mind’s eye. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Make this song an “earworm” for yourself until, in performance, you hear your own voice in your “mind’s ear.”
See you next time for a discussion about how to approach performance anxiety, applying dynamics to your songs, authentic emotion and more!
Thanks for reading!
With blessings and love,
Award-winning recording artist, Broadway singer, journalist, educator and critically-acclaimed powerhouse vocalist, Susie Glaze has been called “one of the most beautiful voices in bluegrass and folk music today” by Roz Larman of KPFK’s Folk Scene. LA Weekly voted her ensemble Best New Folk in their Best of LA Weekly for 2019, calling Susie “an incomparable vocalist.” “A flat out superb vocalist… Glaze delivers warm, amber-toned vocals that explore the psychic depth of a lyric with deft acuity and technical perfection.” As an educator, Susie has lectured at USC Thornton School of Music and Cal State Northridge on “Balladry to Bluegrass,” illuminating the historical path of ancient folk forms in the United Kingdom to the United States via immigration into the mountains of Appalachia. She is a current specialist in performance and historian on the work of American folk music icon, Jean Ritchie. Susie now offers private voice coaching online via the Zoom platform. www.susieglaze.com
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A twice-monthly blog on topics of voice production for Folk, Bluegrass and Americana styles.