UD#71 Remembering Lyrics: What’s My Next Line?

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Remembering Lyrics: What’s My Next Line? (UD#71)
from Ukulele in the Dark
with Guido Heistek


One thing for sure, these days we don’t have to do as much remembering as we used to. With Google we can look up things we need to know at anytime. Our phones remember phone numbers for us. The musician standing in front of an iPad and singing songs is a ubiquitous sight.

Obviously, it’s a big advantage for a musician to not need to be tethered to some kind of device to remember lyrics. There is great freedom in that. Also, it’s very beneficial for our minds if we practice the art of remembering for its own sake. “Use it or lose it,” as they say…

A Feather in a Boot?

I had a great teacher in high school. His name was Mr. Reeder. One day he taught us about association and how powerful it is for memory. He asked us to remember the visual image of a feather in a boot. Two weeks later, he asked us if we remembered the image. We all remembered the image, and I still do to this day. A feather in a boot.

Many years later, I ran into the idea of association in The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas. In the book, we are encouraged to remember lists by creating a visual association between each item. Let’s try an example.


Here is a list:

French fries


First we create a visual association between apple and french fries. You might picture something like this:


An apple with a french fry sticking out of it like a worm.


The weirder the better.

So, if I think of an apple I’ll automatically recall that french fry stuck in it.

Voila! Apple and french fry are linked.

Next we have french fries and toothpaste. I might think of this association:


French fries with toothpaste on them instead of ketchup.


That will do it.

So, now I’m pretty darn certain to be able to remember the first three items on the list with these two associations. Don’t you think?

Let’s do one more. For the next association, I’ll think of this image to connect toothpaste and bacon:


A nice crispy strip of bacon with a big long dollop of toothpaste running its whole length.


I think you get the idea. Through these associations, each item elicits the next item. And we can remember the list.

You may be thinking to yourself, “What if I forget the first item?” Good point. Maybe we should picture an apple with a big #1 painted on it, or something like that.

Why don’t you give it a try? Create visual associations for the rest of the items on the list. See if you can remember the list later today. Or tomorrow. Or in two weeks. I’ll bet you can.


Without Experience There’s No Remembering

This seems so obvious but we often forget it. Often when I demonstrate a piece of music to my students they are so busy watching my fingers, or trying to memorize what I’m doing while I’m doing it, that they actually don’t experience what I’m demonstrating. And this makes it impossible for them to remember it!  It’s ironic that the very things we do to remember are preventing us from experiencing and, therefore, make it impossible to remember.

So when it comes to remembering lyrics, we need to have the experience of listening to or reading the lyrics. This involves having the lyrics conjure up images, thoughts, feelings or other things that are meaningful to us. So, if you’re listening to a song that you want to try and remember, it’s really important to temporarily give up on all the extra work that you would like to do to remember the lyrics. Just listen to the song many times and let the lyrics flow through your mind and evoke images, thoughts and emotions. Do that many times without trying to remember. Just experience the lyrics. This is what it really means to LISTEN.


Back to Associations

Once you have thoroughly experienced the lyrics, it’s helpful to have a way to trigger that experience so you can recall the lyrics. It’s important to practice recalling lyrics again and again. It’s important to practice remembering! We can’t expect it to just happen. We need to use any strategy that helps. Which brings us back to this association idea.

I remember I once had to learn the lyrics for Come Together by the Beatles. The words of this song are really stream of consciousness and absurd. There’s no real story or narrative. Tough to remember for me! Here is the first verse:

Here come ol’ flat top
He come grooving up slowly
He got Joo Joo eye-ball
He one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Got to be a joker
He just do what he please


It’s a song that I knew well! I had listened to it countless times over the years but, for the life of me, couldn’t recall the lyrics to perform the song on my own.

Notice that I underlined the last word of each line. My strategy to recall these lyrics was to create an association between each of the underlined keywords.


I created these visual associations:

1. A table on a turtle’s back: flat top and slowly
2. A turtle with giant eyes: slowly and eyeball
3. Roller skates with eyeballs instead of wheels: eyeball and roller
4. Somebody with roller skates on their knees instead of on their feet: roller and knees
5. A clown on his knees begging: knee, joker and please (Got three with this one!)


With this creative work done, I was able to recall the first verse of this song without too much trouble. After practicing the recall again and again I was able to perform it with some confidence. That was twenty or so years ago, and I still remember it.

Try it on a song that you’re trying to memorize!


Here are the three main points:

1. Lots of experience listening to and reading the lyrics.
2. A strategy for recalling the lyrics. Try visual association!
3. Practice, practice, practice recalling the lyrics


Let me know how it goes!

Okay. All for now!



P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!


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