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6 Reasons to Improve Song Lyric Memorization



Author: Jordan Lloyd
Leadership Category: ,

Posted May 3, 2016 by

It’s not easy. Even if it seems to come easily to other people, the truth is it’s difficult to memorize song lyrics. While you may be able to spout off the lyrics to the theme song to “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you may really struggle with memorizing new songs to use in leading your congregation.

The truth is, you’re not alone. However, I want to convince you that it’s important. And honestly, as a Worship Leader, it may be one of the most important things that you do.

Several years ago, my friend and mentor Todd Fields from NorthPoint Community Church located north of Atlanta encouraged me to make a practice of memorizing song lyrics each week.

When I started leading worship as a High School student, we used music stands and chord charts. This is how we learned and I think it’s a good practice for young worship leaders who are standing in front of a group for the first time. Standing in front of a bunch people staring back at you, expecting you to “lead them” in anything is a daunting task. Even when you’re in your 30s. So for a 16-year-old who is stepping into it for the first time, I get it and I support it.

For those of us who have been doing this for a while, who feel called to not only sing at people, but to truly lead people, to pastor people, memorization is key. I want to provide 6 reasons why I think it’s important.

  1. Memorization honors God
    Anytime we step into using our mind in a greater way, we are honoring God. He commands us to love Him with our mind and scripture is full of instances where we are told to remember. Memorization of anything that is of God always leads to gratitude for the things of God. Philippians 4 says: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
  1. Memorization can make you a better singer
    Don’t let anyone tell you that singing with excellence is easy. It’s difficult and it’s affected by so many controllable and uncontrollable variables. It’s actually an athletic activity that involves the use of more muscles than you realize. In fact, some experts say that a good abdominal and core workout allows singers to vocalize with more strength. When we remove mental stress from the act of leading worship we are ultimately creating mental clarity to devote to other aspects of that same leadership. When I’m comfortable with the lyrics, I’m able to devote more thought to the way that I’m singing.
  1. Memorization allows you to be more pastoral
    One of the most important ways that we lead worship has little to do with music. Prayer should be at the top of our list when we are on a platform in front of people. We have a distinct opportunity to ask God to move during this time of worship. If you know your congregation well, you might find connections between the lyrics that you are singing and the needs that are present among the people. We must find ourselves praying for those people we lead. Confidence in our lyrics will allow us to devote our hearts and minds to prayer and pastoral leadership during worship.
  1. Memorization makes you a better band leader
    If you are responsible for leading the band, you should be well-versed in not only your instruments, but also the instruments and musical parts of those you are leading with. Good leaders have spent more time in their preparation than anyone else on stage. Lyric memorization is advance work, and it’s one of the few things that you can do ahead of time.
  1. Memorization prevents procrastination
    Memorization isn’t a last-minute activity. I’ve tried before and I know that if I’m memorizing lyrics in a hurry, I’m not going to do it well. I’ve been leading worship and memorizing lyrics for a lot of years and it’s still challenging! Start early and work on your memorization often and you’ll find that over time, you will learn how you memorize most quickly.
  1. Memorization removes the barriers
    I use music stands for weddings and funerals. With events like these, you have one shot to get it right and the focus is rarely on you, the musician. We almost never use music stands for services. The removal of the music stand does more for your worship environment than you have any idea. Not only does it clean your stage up, but it also removes a significant barrier between you and the people you are leading. Instead of placing your eyes on a sheet, you are placing your eyes on the people. It’s a visual reminder that the environment in which you are leading is alive.

Any way you look at it, lyric memorization is tough. It’s a “mental muscle” that must be exercised. With a little hard work, you’ll see improvement. I guarantee you’ll be glad you took the time to invest in yourself to become a better leader.


Jordan Lloyd has been writing music and leading worship for over 15 years. He serves as Worship Pastor at TrueNorth Church in North Augusta, SC. He spends his time developing leaders and consulting for church worship ministries across the country. He can be found at twitter.com/jordandlloyd and jordanlloydmusic.com



    I’m a little late to the party but since WL featured a part 2 by Jordan I’ll chime in. I’m a bit old school like JF (see earlier comments) but I’m hired full time so my excuses are limited. I haven’t required our band to memorize because I’m not out front leading the way in this… yet. I was having the “memorization” discussion with one of my volunteer worship leaders the other night. His eyes grew big and face pale at the thought of having to memorize. So we talked about some of the reasons for doing so. As I talked about removing barriers and being more accessible to the congregation he countered by saying that having a music stand in front of us can keep the worship time from feeling like a show and entertainment. “The guys on stage are just everyday Joes like the rest of us, not rock stars.” Additionally, when you have volunteers who are older with children and working full time life can be so full that memorizing just has to take a back seat. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this. One must understand the context in which they lead. But some good thoughts and challenges Jordan. Thanks!


      Hey Gary! Nothing wrong with being old school!

      Memorization is one item on a long list of things that we can do to improve our musicianship and leadership. I think it’s valuable for some people, but maybe ranks lower on the list for other people. The type of church that a leader is serving in, the volunteer structure, the rehearsal structure, etc. are all important factors to consider when determining how much weight to give to the importance of memorization. Regardless, I know some great worship leaders that are both sides of this conversation. So, I would never base someone’s heart or skill level upon their ability to memorize. There is so much more to worship leadership!

      I’m not sure if the presence or absence of music stands lends to a sense that the worship time is entertainment, but I know that can be a reality in some churches for lots of different reasons. I’m sure you and I would both agree that its important for us to challenge our leaders to have a pure heart and be sure that our purpose is centered around lifting up Jesus. I think God honors that type of leadership and protects us from the notion of celebrity. It’s definitely something we have to be proactive about!

      But, as you mentioned nothing compares to our roles of spouse and parent. I tell leaders all of the time that our church could find someone else to do my job, but no one can be a husband to my wife and father to my children like I can. God designed me for that and it must always rank higher than anything else.

      Hope you have a great weekend, Gary! Thanks for the comment! JL

    Scott Tolleson

    Lyric memorization definitely came in handy last Sunday, as we lost our confidence monitor during the first song! I’m so glad I knew the words. Great article, Jordan. Thanks for sharing it!

    Cedric Parker

    My priority as part of a worship team is to ensure that I am spiritually prepared for the event. Secondly, I need to know the tenor part that I sing. I find that with the projected prompts of the words of the songs we sing my time is better spent on understanding the central message of each song and being able to project my commitment to that authentically.

      Jordan Lloyd

      Cedric, You are right on! Our spiritual preparedness and the authenticity with which we lead are very important! God bless your ministry!

    JF in NE

    Some of us who serve as worship leaders work several other jobs and are not in a paid position at our churches. I would like to propose this thought:
    Not spending time memorizing allows more time for both working to pay bills and Kingdom work. This also honors God. By not relying on memory for words and music, one can focus on putting more energy into playing and singing, which can help you to sing without reservation. Also, by not trying to memorize every song that is available, you are able to make changes to better serve your congregation, such as an instance where a concern is brought to everyone’s attention and you have a song that moves people, it just isn’t one you draw on very often…you can use it even if you haven’t committed it to memory. Having command over ones musicianship and memorizing content are two entirely different things.

    I have never had anyone come to me after a service and say, “That last song really would have moved me, but your music stand and the fact that you didn’t memorize the song dishonored God and totally took me out of worship.” On the other hand, I have had folks tell me that something really spoke to them, (in spite of the “barriers”). They can tell where your heart is, even if they can’t see it behind the physical obstructions.

    At the church I serve, I am lead computer and sound tech, create and print the worship guides and lead worship…all volunteer. I counter your memorization challenge with this challenge: use the time that would be required to memorize everything volunteering in your community and getting closer to people. Unless. of course, you are in a paid position. Then I guess you probably should do your job. And, please remember that some of us are pretty much giving it all we have and could do without someone writing an article that comes off as insulting our efforts…that we aren’t doing enough.


      I have to respectfully disagree with you JF. I too work a full time job and lead worship as a volunteer. In fact, I’m an elder, oversee the entire Sunday Experience (guest services, production, worship, creative, and prayer teams), and sing and play guitar. I’ve leaned heavily on my iPad for years with the attitude that I didn’t have enough mental capacity to memorize lyrics like I used to be able to do. (I’m married and have 6 kids too).

      But God started changing my perspective recently. He made me realize how memorizing the songs (lyrics and chords) sews them into my heart even more. Which frees me to lead from a better place. Instead of worrying about the next chord or word, I’m able to pay attention to the Spirit’s leading and the people’s need more effectively.

      I’ve started listening to the set on my commute to/from work each day. I’ll admit, I started to worry about getting tired of the songs. But what I’m finding is that as I lead my heart, I’m enjoying the songs even more.

      Just my two cents. 🙂

        JF in NE

        Kevin, I hope we can simply agree to disagree on this issue.
        I believe that God has wired us, each, uniquely for the work before us. Where you say memorization frees you to lead without worrying about the next chord, it has the opposite effect for me. Trying to rely solely on memory has even lead me to sing a line that never existed to a song that I wrote. I’m not kidding, either. I once had a lengthy discussion about memorization with the dear, sweet elderly woman who played organ at the church I serve, between 10 and 20 years ago. What I finally told her was that I had come to accept that it could be possible that God wired me this way.
        In what way? Well, as a writer…I’m sort of a blank slate. My freedom is from fear of plagiarizing others words. And, my songwriter side gets nervous when lyrics are referred to with terms that are usually reserved for scripture. I’m not implying that you meant that…that’s why it makes me nervous.
        Besides, memorization does not equate discernment. I’ve seen kids sing, from memory, all the lyrics to pop songs that I really, really hope they don’t fully understand.
        Lastly, when I lead, I use a tattered 3-ring binder. I’m old school. Much like many do with their weathered Bibles, my notebook contains lead sheets with years of notes, changes, alternatives, capo notations for different guitars and tunings, etc. I’m following my lead sheet and the congregation, unless they are very well versed in all the lyrics, should be following what we have on the screen. That is where I want their attention, not on me. I prefer to spend my time making the arrangement aid in their discernment, going for a meld of music and lyrics that emphasize the message.
        If what you are doing works…great! God bless it. I just don’t want anyone to feel like a failure in the eyes of God if memorization doesn’t work for them.

      Jordan Lloyd

      Thanks for the comment! I’m so encouraged by worship leaders like you who commit to serve their church well in a volunteer role while also juggling many other things in life like work and family and other priorities. The job of worship leader is a tough one and it’s one that often carries a lot of pressure.

      Lyric memorization is tough, it’s a process and often times other things prevent it from being part of our workflow. That is totally ok!

      I hope you hear my heart in encouraging my fellow Worship Leaders to simply do the best we can with the time we have every time we lead. For some that might mean lyric memorization and for others it could be any one thing on the long list of things we have to do to prepare each week.

      I think God is honored by humble leaders who position themselves to be fully used by Him to point people to His presence. That has so much more to do with the condition of our heart than anything else.

      I pray that your services are wonderful this weekend and that God moves in an amazing way! God bless you!

    Edward Anderson

    If you don’t KNOW what you are singing, how can you MEAN what you are singing? Great article, I’ll share it at rehearsal tomorrow…


    Jordan this is great. With my team I very humorously call the music stands a “baby bottle,” ha! There’s always grace for different worship environments and skill level, but not being tethered to the stand really does free you to fully engage the congregation.
    I want my team to be as connected to the people they serve as possible. Smiling, singing, engaging. It communicates care to the congregation that we’d all spend the extra time to create the best atmosphere we can for them to connect with Jesus.
    It’s often that I find myself repeating a specific chorus based off of the work I see the Lord doing in the midst of a song in their hearts. Sometimes I notice a great response to certain lines of a verse and it’s good to refrain the end of the song with them because of the impact the Spirit is working through that moment..And sometimes I see that it’s best to just create space for people to pause and just have a minute to really reflect on where they are with the Lord with a simple piano and keyboard. And that’s the beauty..without a stand, I can always SEE.
    All to say, I’ve experienced the fruit and freedom of memorization and it’s well worth the toil. I’d encourage any worship director/leader/pastor to give-it-a-go and experience the difference. A yes and amen to all your points. Thank you for this thoughtful and encouraging article.


    nice article and i will work on memorization skills 🙂

    Jordan Lloyd

    Thanks, Kevin!


    Excellent points Jordan and the challenge I needed! I’ve been feeling for awhile now that I need to ditch my handy iPad mounted to my mic stand so I can be more in touch with the Spirit’s leading and the needs of the people I’m leading. I’ll definitely be sharing this article with my team!

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