Memorising Songs


I was just wondering if anyone has any tips or advice to help with memorising songs. I am really struggling with this. I break songs down in to chunks to learn them but when it comes to stringing all the chunks together I really struggle to remember what is in them and in what order I should play them. So even though I am progressing technically i still can’t play a whole song from memory. I’m still stuck just being able to play the odd riff from multiple songs.

Any help and advice would be greatly appreciated. Currently I’m trying to learn Sultans of Swing (I know, setting the bar high for the beginner that I am, but I keep gravitating back to it, so I thought why not try and learn it) and my mind is melting.




Hi Jim, welcome to the community!!
I’m afraid it’s really about the repetition and practice that’ll get you there. Great that you’re breaking the song into chunks to learn them, from that point you’ve got to play the song as a whole again and again but without stopping if you get lost. What you’ll find is that you will remember the chunk you’re meant to be in and pick it back up. Probably not the answer you were looking for, there isn’t really a magic wand beyond practice practice practice!

Do you use the app to play along with or are you using an alternative backing track?
All the best - Mark.


Hi @jimthfc, this question comes up pretty often and I usually give the same tip, which works for me:

Write out the chord progression on a piece of paper. Put 4 bars per line. So you’ll write out something like this:

|G    |A    |D    |G 
|D    |G    |A    |A

Often you will see some pattern in the progression this way that will help in memorizing.

My other suggestion would be to start with something easier, much easier than Sultans. Sure, come back to Sultans as often as you like, but in parallel memorize some simple songs with only 3-4 chords from start to finish.


Hi James,

I asked this question a while back. I still struggle with it. It seems to be related a lot to how much else I have to remember in work life. When that is less, I can learn a song faster. When work is very taxing, I can’t seem to make progress and just brute-force repeat the song until it sticks a bit.

I remember at least one other person asking the same thing:

happy reading!


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I started memorizing songs after playing at an outdoor jam fighting the wind blowing my song sheets all around. Another club member commented to me that I play a relatively small set of songs at jams and to consider memorizing them.

Once I got into it, I realized what a crutch the song sheets had been. It helps a lot, I think, that I sing and play. The way I tend to memorize a song is by playing it first from the song sheet for a number of times. Once I start to get into the groove of the song, I then sing and play the first phrase from memory.

“How many road must a man walk down”…

I keep repeating that until i can remember it, then I add the next phrase.

“Before you call him a man”…

Then I work on singing both phrases repeatedly until i can do both of them from memory, then I add the next phrase

“How many seas must a white dove sail”…

And on until the entire song is memorized. It’s not as torturous as it seems rereading my explanation. Overall I now consider songs as mostly being fairly easy to memorize.


Hi Welcome to the club @jimthfc. I mean this quite literally, in the sense of welcome here in the community. But also in the club of those that are challenged by songs and the wish to memorise them by heart.
First off, it is a good thing to memorise songs, or so I think, because it allows you to keep the rhythm going. Usually, one look at the chord progression will help you get through an entire song, because they repeat. If you have to look each and every time at the leadsheet (where am I) you are bound to lose the groove and build in mistakes, and you lose track of where the others are when you play together.

Obviously, when I read the title to your post, I thought you meant memorizing lyrics, but the other dimension is memorising chord progressions and rhythms etc. On the former, I am challenged, and I am happy to limit myself to a maximum of four verses, and a single chorus, which is the limit of my memories capabilities. Not for me a Folk Ballad like Matty Groves with 12+ verses.

On the latter, you’ll have to develop muscle memory guide you. Obviously, start with songs that have an easy groove that you are very familiar with and with a very easy structure, like a blues progression or something similar, involving 2, or 3 or 4 chords at the most. Play it often. Then hide the chordsheet, and try and pull it back from memory! Then, try and do that in the dark! It helps of course if you have something of a backing tape to play against, certainly.

When you are safe on the basic rhytm and chord progression, you can build in the intro’s/solo’s outro’s/embellishments. Leave complicated songs with different verses , choruses and bridges and solo parts for later, you are bound to set yourself up for al lot of frustration.

Even if you don’t sing, it is nice to know the words in the song, because then you would not lose track of where you are in a song, and when to transition into a bridge, or prepare for the outro.

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Hey Jim!

Sultans is really hard. If you want to build up your skill at memorising, I agree with @jjw, work on some simpler songs. Do you already have any songs that you could play campfire style? Like, if somebody handed you a guitar right now, could you play any songs from memory without looking anything up? If you pick a simple song and get it up to that campfire level, that will help with your memorisation skill.

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I think it also depends on to what degree you would want to memorise them. Most people do not try to learn songs note for note, but learn something like:

Key: A
Verse: I V VI IV (Or just the ‘pop’ progression)
Chorus: IV V x2
Bridge: I x8
Structure: Verse x2 Chorus Verse x2 Chorus Bridge Chorus x2

Basically, reduce each section to what you already know and learn the sequence of sections.

Over time, this gets easier as the more vocabulary one knows, the more they can refer to. After a point, I think, professional musicians do not even need this much information, they can rely on other band members and get their clues on the go.

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Hi Jim,

Welcome to the community! I feel like the trick is to play something enough that muscle memory takes over during the song. For me, once I’ve learned a song for long enough that I can perform it, I find that my fingers just automatically know where to go without consciously having to think about it.

Sometimes, I will have a short cheat sheet that may give me quick prompts or the beginnings of lyrics for when I’m singing if there are certain parts where I know I tend to lose my place. Overall though, I would encourage you to not have the whole song written down in front of you, otherwise, you may learn to rely on it instead of letting your memory do the work.

Also, good for you for digging right in to a tricky song! One of my goals when I started playing was to learn Heart’s Barracuda. I have learned a lot from picking apart the different pieces. I still work on it from time to time, or put it down and come back to it once I’ve learned new skills. It will probably always be my project song :laughing: But I also throw in some simpler songs too so that I don’t get frustrated when it gets hard. The sense of accomplishment from being able to play something through from beginning to end is the best feeling! Keep at it and you’ll get there.



I really, really struggle with this. My brain doesn’t like to memorize, it likes to figure it out… There are/were a few songs that I did memorize. They were very simple and I played them well over 100 times. I don’t think I could play anything today from start to finish and get the lyrics right as well. The songs I had luck with were the same 4 chords that repeat straight thru - ‘say it right’ and ‘apologize’ come to mind. I can keep the chords going, no problem, but the lyrics just circle back or get dropped out for me. I go the other way with the songs. I prop up the phone or tablet, open a pdf, and just accept it. It’s not like the phone isn’t a constant companion and a foot activated page turner travels easily in the guitar stuff backpack.

I’m not trying to discourage. These are good suggestions the others are making. I am really just posting in case there is someone like me reading this. I’ve had conversations with folks who play and folks who hear me play and ask why I only play with the ‘crutch’. The conversations get really short when I ask what their wife’s cell phone number is… Maybe, I’ll figure it out some day, but it isn’t getting me down.

Anyway, a little frustration is good. A lot of frustration isn’t. Do enough fun things so that you keep the instrument in your hands.

Good luck,



Hi Michael, glad to meet you and good luck in your profession!
Agree that demanding jobs do affect performance on guitar back in home. I stop playing guitar to try hard passing the university for six years, which I failed eventually :laughing:

Curse and bless, I landed a not so effort demanding (and pay as well, meh) job as an expat in Singapore and I still couldnt believe what I have achieved. Learning from the fingerstyle maestro I have dreamt of, having a YouTube channel running, and most importantly reaching out and meeting fantastic people just like you.

Wish you have a lovely day!

James, lots of great advice and personal experiences already shared. All I can add is my own.

When I started I found it really difficult to memorise anything. Over time remembering how to play a song became far more doable and remembering the lyrics to be able to perform was hard and induced stress when I stood up to perform a song. A year or so later and I found it both easier to remember the lyrics and perform without fear of forgetting the lyrics.

I still make mistakes, play the wrong chord, mess up a lyric, but do so far less frequently than I used to. I’m just over 6 years in this pasttime, my own journey and timeline, but keep at it and you’ll keep progressing.

My conclusion, there is lots to remember when learning to play. It starts with chord shapes and never stops. In a meta sense, it takes time to train the brain in the art of remembering all these things, while one is also developing the abilities to do what you know. Over time neuroplasticity means we can learn new things, including learning how to learn to memorise songs, lyrics, scale patterns, solos etc etc etc

It just takes time, persistance, patience, and practice, practice, practice.


Welcome to the forum, Jim!!!
Are you singing along with your playing?
I always tell my friends that are learning to play, to sing and play the guitar.
Singing will get you to set the pace, and your guitar playing will try to keep up with the proper beat and speed of the song.
Singing the song will get you to sing the verse, the chorus, another verse, and maybe another chorus. Then the song ends.
Have fun!!!

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Lots of good comments for this prompt, which I struggle with at times as well.

But I have found that writing the chord progressions out like @jjw mentioned makes the beginning aspects of learning a song much more manageable.

I tried memorizing some more complicated songs early in the journey and it didn’t go well, so I simplified.

maybe it’s just me but unless the progression is really super basic I find that singing and playing an unfamiliar song at the same time to be way too difficult

@jjw approach is what works for me: I write down the lyrics and for each section (verse/chorus/bridge) I write down a simplified chord progression, this helps in highlighting the patterns
Another helpful thing is to listen to the song over and over until you are super familiar with the sound you are trying to achieve

I really struggled a lot with this at the beginning but I am finding that with each song I learn it gets a little bit easier


You need to find out how the band actually played it live particularly with recorded songs that fade out like Sultans.

The bad news in this example is that the live version goes into an extended solo around 3 chords and the whole is twice as long at 10:46. The good news is that Knopfler doesn’t play it the same nor does he sing the words the same.