I’ve often found that (assuming you have the lyrics mostly memorized) if you can get out the first line of a song the rest will usually follow without incident. So I often try to recite those first few words to myself before I begin a song. If I absolutely can’t bring them up I will go on to another tune. Sometimes – and perhaps this is just the way my scattered mind works – I’ll be somewhere in the middle of the replacement song and suddenly the first lyrics of the one I put aside will come to me. Then it’s probably time to try that one next. Can’t count on this however!
Back in my high school days I was very involved with the drama program and the best way I could find to memorize my lines was to write them down. For some reason that made the memorization process easier than staring at a script. It works for song lyrics for me even today, if admittedly a bit tedious.
Most important I think is removing the crutch. That is, force yourself to try the song without the lyric sheet, in the comfort of your own personal rehearsal space. This can be frustrating and you will most likely have to repeat the process for a few days even if you manage to memorize the song after repeated attempts. Sometimes it helps to just strum the first chord of a song, then close your eyes and try singing it with no accompaniment. That way you won’t be distracted by that damned barre chord that seems to always crop up at the worst possible time.
I’ve recently noticed many performers using IPads on stands designed for them while they perform. Many use a program called OnSong, which allows them to download and edit lyrics, put in chord changes and also their own song files. “Page turns” can be controlled with a Bluetooth pedal. Without getting into whether this is cheating or not (!) there must be some value to using this technology. To be frank, I have the tools necessary but I have been too lazy to go through the download and editing process. Maybe I will, one of these days.
Then…. Relax. My hero the great jazz guitarist Martin Taylor subscribes to the practice of yoga and deep breathing exercises before he performs. Many other great musicians do this too. If you go before an audience all tense and tight, no matter how confident and focused you are your performance will take a while to slip into the groove.
Some people find it helpful to sing along with the original recording many times before trying to work out on the guitar. That’s fine, as long as you intend to perform the song in the artist’s original key; otherwise, you will be pretty much back at square one in the memorization process because your guitar will not match the tonality that you’ve implanted on your brain with the song in its original key.
Anyway, good luck. I hope these tips help.
Speaking of memorizing, I’m in the process of getting performance-ready a very cool tune I discovered recently, “Love is Gonna Blow My Way” by the Steve Earle. It’s a really fun, bouncy little tune with a great early jazz/ragtime kind of groove. Some pretty fast chord changes in the bridge but if you like that kind of music give it a listen. Steve Earle is pretty rough around the edges but he has truly lived the songs he writes, which I think is a requirement for truly honest song writing.
I’m working on getting my summer performance schedule together and if everything falls into place it looks to be the busiest summer I’ve had in many years. That’s great! Nothing motivates me to practice and learn new material than the possibility of putting it in front of a variety of audiences.
Finally, we have all probably noted with sadness the passing of Sir George Martin, the legendary producer. What a great man and without him you have to wonder if the Beatles would have been as creative and influential. One reviewer said that Martin was nothing less than the driving force behind all post-jazz popular music, directly and indirectly and I can’t disagree. Read his autobiography if you can. Every page will make you realize that without him, perhaps very few of us would ever have picked up a guitar.
Peace & good music,