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Memorization Techniques

Conversation from GALA AD Discussion List

Ellen,
This weekend marks our first concert that's totally memorized (our audience THINKS we memorize, but this time there's no cheat sheets strategically placed in the pit or elsewhere.) We followed the wise advice of a number of my fellow directors, and it's really worked for us:

1. Run at least a part of every song at every rehearsal. Sing through a phrase, then do it again without music. Rinse and repeat....

2. Give your chorus a schedule of when each song WILL be memorized, then hold them to it! They'll realize that they know more than they think they do.

3. Our accompanist makes rehearsal CDs. If you don't have that resource, many choruses have members (or their director) sing parts on their rehearsal CDs. Since ours cds are keyboard sounds only, I've suggested that singers write out lyrics, which seemed to help many of them.

4. Give them opportunity to show off in front of each other...pop quizzes in quartets or more! (All done in the spirit of fun and love.)

4. Give visual cues during your conducting. I'll sign a word or two on occasion (if the sign's not too big or unusual and I can hide it from the audience so it doesn't look like I'm interpreting). Even if the singers don't initially know what a sign means, they'll come to associate it with that word or phrase and the lyric becomes automatic.

5. Bring singers out of the mix to hear the chorus with and without music. They should be able to hear the difference in quality the absence of the "wall" of folders makes. (and it's nice to see faces instead of tops of heads)

Good luck!

Tim Gillham
Artistic Director
Richmond Men's Chorus/Richmond Women's Chorus


Hi, Ellen,

Thanks for those tips, Tim. My chorus, One Voice Chorus, is singing their concert this Saturday from memory (a first for me as a director), and my experience this year with the chorus was a little different (though not unsuccessful!).

I began the season with a schedule for when each song was to be memorized. Easier songs are easier to memorize, so they came first. The most difficult music was in the front part of the middle (it needs even longer to set in the memory) and the "in between" music was sprinkled throughout the rest of the schedule.

The most important part, I found, was making sure the schedule was kept. That meant that I was responsible for getting the notes learned with enough time for the choristers to memorize. I made it a goal to have the notes learned two weeks in advance. At the end of that rehearsal, I reminded them that a due date was coming.

The week before, I did a pre-test where choristers could earn "extra credit" by singing without the music ahead of schedule. Some used that as a way to test their own work. The week before a due date was really focused on the music to be off-book the next week.

The day of the test, folders were left in chairs and we stood to sing. My group was really amazed at how successful they were in the process. We got everything memorized right on time and began doing full run throughs of the show well before I expected. We were even able to rehearse and correct little slip ups without music.

The choir challenged me to also memorize my music, and I'll be conducting the first half of our concert from memory. [The first half is a formal concert setting; the second half is pops, and I'll be down in a pit-type area conducting out of view.]

One of the main differences between my approach and Tim's is that I don't spend rehearsal time memorizing. They are expected to put that time in outside rehearsal with sections and using their rehearsal CD's [The CD has every piece with their part played louder than the others and another track with the accompaniment and no part help so they can practice carrying their own part.]

Just some other thoughts,

Joseph D. Daniel
Artistic Director, One Voice Chorus, Ferndale, MI