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Memorization Tips + Tricks

If you’re a music major, you know that juries are just right around the corner! I’m currently in the process of cleaning up a few pieces and I still have two pieces that need a lot of work (Yikes!) There’s been a lot a lot on my plate, but I’m ready to put in the extra effort!

Whenever I’m learning new music, I tend to follow a specific system that really works in terms of memorizing my music as well as the translations! (Thanks, Mr. Harper!)

The Process:

  1. History of the piece – Before you do anything, definitely find out some background information on your piece. You may find out some crucial information that makes the piece and your performance even more special. For instance, I’m currently working on Chanson Triste by Duparc, which I’ve neglected all semester… but although Duparc wrote quite a bit, he truly believed and considered Chanson Triste to be his first real song. Which means he really saw something special in this piece and I want to treat it as such.
  2. Learn the notes + rhythm – Whenever I’m learning a song, I always learn the melody and rhythm first before diving straight in. When doing this, make sure you’re singing on a neutral syllable (na, ta, etc.) so you don’t worry/concentrate about the words too much!
  3. Learn the words + translation – This by far is the part that I have the hardest time with. I usually don’t have a problem singing the words, but remembering what I’m saying is the kicker. My voice teacher, Mr. Harper, has his students write their IPA like this *see below* but I’ve changed it up a bit to work best for me.
  4. The dirty work – As students, I think we often “just sing,” and forget about a lot of what makes a piece music. In order to actually make music, we need to dive deeper. Ask yourself these questions: Who are you in the song? Who are you singing to? How do you, the “character”, feel about what you are singing?
  5. Staging (if necessary) – A lot of your staging should feel natural and should come directly from the “dirty work” mentioned in #4, but if you’re still struggling or want to make sure you do something specific in your piece, stage it! I wouldn’t recommend staging the entire piece because you still want to keep a certain amount of authenticity and originality coming from your performance. Staging the entire thing may cause your movements/acting choices to look planned. Whatever you do, make sure you do it with motivation + intention.
  6. Make music + SING! 

Memorizing Words + Translation:

1.  Write out all of your IPA, original text, and translation out on a blank piece of paper. I usually like to format my paper with IPA – Original text – English translation, but some people I know like to put Original Text – IPA – English Translation; the order is totally up to you, just make sure you have those three all next to each other. *Use pencil!

2. Grab a few of your favorite colored markers, highlighters, colored pencils, etc. My favorite are these Stabilo Fineliner Pens. Seriously, I use them all. the. time. When picking colors, I usually try to keep the colors similar, but if you’re feeling like a full on rainbow, go for it!!

*Sorry for the chipped nail polish!

3. My favorite part – color coding! Being a visual person, this helps me so much. I use the same color to underline the IPA, original text, and English translation for the word/set of words and its meaning. For example, below in the dark pink, I made sure to underline the IPA, the original text: “dans ton cour”, and it’s translation: “in your heart.” This helps my brain connect all three things, and I swear it works. Don’t be afraid to speak the words as you’re underlining them too. While spending more in depth time with the text like this, you’re sure to have the words memorized and know what you’re saying too! It definitely takes some time to get used to, but it’s helped me a lot.

4. Optional: learn your text as a monologue first and speak it aloud with intention and purpose. My professor really likes this part of the process and swears by it!

When you’re done, your page with look like a colorful masterpiece and you’ll have done some seriously great in depth work on your piece! You’ll also have a super helpful worksheet that you can revisit over and over again to study! I sincerely hope this process will be as helpful to you all as it has been to me.

*How do you memorize music? Leave your response in the comments below!*

Thanks for reading!