CAn'My singers just lllurve me when I give them yet another load of new songs to learn! While I let them look at lyrics when we are rehearsing, it’s forbidden to have lyrics when we perform. It looks like we haven’t bothered to learn the songs properly and I don’t like it.

There has been research about learning lyrics. According to some research from the University of Oxford, “regular choir members report that learning new songs is cognitively stimulating and helps their memory, and it has been shown that singing can help those suffering from dementia, too”.

So what is it about lyrics that makes them easy to remember and recall? This week, I invited my singers to listen mindfully to the new songs. We don’t often treat ourselves to fully submerging ourselves in music, we are often doing something else at the same time (driving, cooking, eating, running). When we sit and listen carefully to something we have more of a chance of it staying in our mind.

How often do you listen to a song and realise that despite not having heard it for many years, you are still able to remember the words?! A singer once commented “It appears that while I cannot remember what day it is or what I had for lunch, that I CAN remember the words from the whole 1980’s top 40.” They fact that lyrics are written in a certain rhythm helps us to maintain that when we sing. This means it sticks in our heads easily. Rhyming in lyrics also makes it easier to follow – we are able to recall the rhymes at the end of lines and often then by association fill in the gaps.

Remembering things including lyrics depends on may different processes. Firstly we need to encode this information efficiently – this is where the mindful listening comes in. If we make associations with the lyrics as we encode them then we are much more likely to find them meaningful and even more likely to remember them. A hugely boring way to encode lyrics is to sing them over and over again. Last rehearsal, we learned a new song a line at a time. We listened to a line, then sang it, then the next line, then sang it all the way through the first verse. Then were do the whole verse. By ‘forcing’ singers to listen instead of trying to join in, they took in more of the information I was intending them to.

The next memory process is storage – we need to keep the lyrics safely in our minds. How do we do this!? By regularly accessing this information and using it, we keep it fresh. At times, I do this by looking at the lyrics in a slightly different way or by writing them down or by illustrating them with little doodles. Retrieval is then the next part of the process. And if the encoding and storage has been effective, the retrieval process almost feels automatic – which is why we can start singing along to stuff we haven’t heard for ages at the drop of a hat.

Creating a meaning and an emotional connection to what we are singing helps us remember them. Now, in a choir, I am choosing the songs (its not a request show….. if you want to pick your own stuff, go out to karaoke!) so the songs often have an emotional connection to me and not my singers. But as we are a strong community, and we sing these songs together, we create our own memories, associations, and emotional connections. Then we are more likely to remember words.

What songs haven’t you heard for ages that you could start singing if it came on the radio? What time of your life does this remind you of? Why?

Happy singing xxxxx