Trouble Memorizing Songs

I am Grade2, Module 13, and still have not managed to memorize a song. I do well with lyrics and short intervals, but a whole song alludes me. I use the app as a crutch, but I really need to get out of that habit.

How do others manage to remember songs? Lyrical cues? What about a song without lyrics (i.e. most things Classical), what about remembering one different note buried in the middle (i.e. Dreams)? How do you know when to end a song (i.e. Hey Joe)?


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For me it’s about the structure of the song. So for something like Every Rose has it’s Thorn which is relatively simple to memorize you have different patterns for the Intro, the Verse, the chorus, the bridge, and the solo (Rhythm). So I focus on one part at a time. First the intro, the move to verse 1, then chorus. Once here you’ve already memorized most of the song: the link and the intro are the same and all 3 verses are the same then just memorize the bridge and the solo (rhythm for the solo I mean).

After I have each part memorized the only thing I’m thinking about while playing isn’t necessarily the chord sequences but the structure. “Okay finished the intro now a verse, now a chorus, back to link/intro, another verse…” etc.

That’s how I do it at least.

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I think the app is great for playing along and getting the feel, some timing and learning changes and strumming.

But, it is not great for actually learning songs. It really lets you play the song (which helps you learn guitar) but not learn it.

To learn it, you need to step outside the app. Use the songbook and/or (and is better) Justin’s video song lessons. Write out the cord sequence several ways, write out the tab. Play it from your own writing some as well.


Hi @sequences

The clue is in your username Michael.

The vast majority of songs have several chords that come in very predictable patterns that repeat over and over.
Write them down to see this and you will much more quickly recognise when to change (by reading) which will then help train your ear to know when to change (by listening).

In my opinion, not being an app user, and not knocking its worth at all, one of the issues the song app can create is that beginners do not get any sense of song structure as chords come one at a time in a linear manner. Whereas songs are built on chord progressions that belong together in groups.

Look at these two different representations of the chord progression for the exact same song. It is not a simple chord progression compared to some, though it does have its patterns and repeated sections. One representation is linear, one is structured and arranged. Which is best to learn and memorise is fairly obvious to my eye.

A linear arrangement of chords:

A structured arrangement in a ‘chord chart’:

Hope that helps.

Cheers :smiley:

| Richard_close2u | Community Moderator, Official Guide, JustinGuitar Approved Teacher


Bonus points for anyone who can figure out the song.


Hi Michael.
For me the app did not work at all when trying to learning songs. I had to step out from the app and use books and tabs.
I did not manage to memorize anything at all when playing along the app, why that? Dont have a clue.

You allready got some great tips from Joshua and Alexis witch i very much agrees with.

What i can say is that it takes quite a lot of work to memorize a song, chords, solos, intro, outro and lyrics. So dont beat yourself on it. No shame in having the book/ tabs or whatever in front of you while playing.


Yeah, the app doesn’t seem to help with memorization.

I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from finding a lead sheet online, printing it out, and playing from that.

It’s kind of an intermediate step - you are still relying on the lead sheet - but forces you to focus on the bigger picture.

I like to import them into a word processor and format for easy reading, adding reminders for tricky bits, etc. But just printing one out double spaced, and penciling in notes, etc can go a long way.

There’s something about working on the song - on paper, away from the instrument - that helps with understanding and recall.

Another advantage of lead sheets… I often start working on a song, then hit some technical challenge, and need to set it aside for a while. But when I come back to it later, having the lead sheet makes it much easier to get up to speed again.

My next step is to add a “play from memory” section to my practice routine, because I realize that lead sheets are also kind of a crutch. But a useful crutch nonetheless.

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Useful stuff from each response - that’s pretty awesome!

Alexis mentioned the hierarchy using the song sections as markers - this will probably work ok for me, but I need to understand song structure better - I started guitar completely new to music other than being a listener. I have been memorizing by bar, but that chunk is too small in most cases.

Joshua reminds me of the songbook. I skipped this when Justin recommended it because I didn’t understand what to record in it. I will start one.

Richard gives me examples of what to place in the songbook. I’ll need to learn a bit more than the verbal lesson Justin gave us regarding song structure. I like the style you show here. It seems you have figured out my username - I knew there would be some irony in it when I started this journey.

Trond - I think the app is lacking because you only get a look at a few notes at a time. Trying to remember the sequence there is too detailed for me and the reason I have not been doing so well.

Tom’s comment about writing things down is good for me as well. I have taken notes my whole career and I didn’t do that here. This will definitely help a lot.

My father and I used to joke that if we got sent to the store with more than three items each to remember, we’d need to bring a list. I did not apply that lesson here!

Thank you for the useful ideas. I think this will help a lot.


In addition to making your own songbook, Justin has several songbooks which are super helpful.

What I have found, though, is the version on the app doesn’t usually match the one in the songbook and often these are also different than in the video.

There are many ways to play a song, so look at them all and adapt to what seems best for you, I suppose. I generally like the songbook and video versions. The app is simplified for its format I think.

I’ll second @Jamolay here with Justin’s song books. I own his first beginner songbook and the rock songbook. Both have been instrumental in understanding song structure and memorizing songs. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is a song in the Rock Song book and it’s what I used to memorize it.

I recommend checking them out in the product page cause he has a bunch of genre based songbooks and 2 beginner ones for relatively cheap.

May be it’s just me but I’m not sure I’ve learnt a complete song yet! I have learnt lots of bits of a number of songs though. Do I need to learn a full song? Probably not but you never know :slight_smile:

I think it feels like I have accomplished something to think I can get all the way through a song.

It is also endurance training. If you only try to play snippets of songs, how will you develop to play for a period of time?

Currently (1.3 yrs in) I think I can remember my way through about 7 songs. 2 classical and 5 rock. I can’t play them all well or at tempo, but I remember the parts. There are others I have forgotten because I have moved to practice other things or songs.

Stuart, allow me to introduce you to my mantra.

Learn songs, learn songs, learn songs.


To steal from Justin, “practice makes permanent.” Another way to think of that, repetition makes permanent. No matter how you go about learning to play the song, probably the one sure fire way to memorize it is simply to play it over and over until it sticks in that part of the brain where permanent things go.

I agree with Ed in the above post and it highlights Richard comments about the structure arrangement of cords (rather than linear.

In a structured cord arrangement, you learn it part by part. Get one verse, then the chorus and so on. But you may only need to learn 2 or three sections and then string them together in the right way. Much easier than trying to just rote learn the whole thing.

Also, when I am learning a fingerpicking or classical piece, I look at the sections that may be A-B-A and I only need to learn two sections. Then I start with one bar, learn it, add the next bar until I reach a good stopping point. If this isn’t the full section, I learn the other part of the section in the same way and then patch them together. Once I have a section down, I go to the next section to do the same, taking time to practice the section I know and keep learning the section I don’t. Keep patching and pretty soon you have it memorized.

Note that I don’t try to memorize them to play. I am memorizing BY playing.

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@Richard_close2u is on the money here!

Learn songs, and play without the app. Just you, your guitar, and the song printed out. For me, a chord sheet (lyrics with chords) works better than a tab. Repeat, again, and again.

After a while you will just remember the chord sequences if you play a song every day for a month. I do it this way and I would have trouble NOT remembering songs.

Also, I can’t figure out the song in @Richard_close2u’s post, it’s not one in my repertoire!


This is a subject that’s very dear to me. When I started playing, I was in the same place, it just seemed too hard to memorize songs. I would always take my song sheets along to the jams at the music club that I joined. One day, we had to hold the jam outside and my sheets kept blowing away, another member came up to me and said, Tony, you always play the same 3 or 4 songs, why don’t you memorize them so you don’t have to chase your sheets all over the place.

This ended up being one of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given over the years. For me, once I put my mind to it, memorizing hasn’t proven to be all that difficult after all. When I start with a new song, I sometimes now memorize while learning the song, other times, when i go for a walk I take the lyrics with me and sing the first phrase over and over till I can repeat it from memory.

Then I add the second phrase and sing both of them until I can repeat it from memory.

Before long, depending on the size of the song obviously, the whole song is memorized.

I then have to keep that song on my daily practice rotation for a few weeks to lock it in my memory. As long as I play them a bit regularly, I have no problem recalling them. The other day I tried to play a song from memory that was one of my most played and most memorized song and I really struggled with it the first couple of times through (I hadn’t played it in probably about a year). Now it’s back to being easy to play from memory.

Your mileage may vary, try different things to see which works best for you. For me, the cool thing is I can now play for a couple of hours completely from memory which comes in really handy during late night jams around a campfire.


OK, I’ll rephrase this. I have learnt and am still learning songs, but don’t feel the need to play all of the song exactly as the songbook/lesson. Put it down as my take (or interpretation) of a song. I can and do play more than a snippet, mostly for chord change practice and (as noted) endurance.

Know it well!!

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Never used the app. and am learning songs. Now up to those with power chords!

I guess the fact that I can’t (don’t) sing may not help this. There is no way I’m going to inflict my voice on anyone, so just playing the guitar is what I do.