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Memorization Tips
for Actors and Singers

by Howard Richman

        Memorization Techniques for ActorsSimple memorization techniques help actors and speech-givers learn lines with confidence. Anyone who needs to remember lines or memorize speeches or learn song lyrics will find these free tips useful. These memory guidelines are useful with any type of public speaking or acting and singing. Please read further to learn about actors and the art of memorization and how to memorize lines.

Learn:

        • How to memorize lines
        • How to memorize song lyrics
        • How to memorize speeches
        • How to memorize for exams and tests

        There are many memories: visual, aural, tactile, emotional, smell, taste. If you are blessed with a photographic memory, then you have the ease of literally “reading” your lines out of your brain. This is because you are able to “see” the words on the page from within your own mind.

        But the average person cannot do this. So the memory that will become the most functional is the “tactile” or “muscular” memory. The following information will be geared towards harnessing the hidden power of your muscular memory towards your goal of memorizing lines. As a piano teacher for more than 38 years, I’ve witnessed the miracle of the muscular memory at the piano with myself and with thousands of pianists. The truths that I’ve observed at the piano are immediately applicable to the goal of memorizing speeches, memorizing lines, memorizing plays. This also will work for memorizing formulas and various expressions while studying for a test in school.

        Once you “know” the perfunctory technique of saying your lines, you can then easily add expression. The problem that most people have is that they are focusing so much on the blocking, stage direction, vocal inflections and expression that the lines themselves disappear from their mind and they become very embarrassed. This does not mean that you are not smart or that you are losing your mind. This just means that you are normal! Your brain can only do one thing at a time. If you are focused on one thing, then the other thing is compromised. Yet, if the words can be delegated to the autonomic nervous system, to the point where you don’t have to think about it, then you can focus on other things like feeling and expression and the words will no longer disappear. This is because the conscious mind can only think of one thing at a time. If you want to do two things at a time, then at least one of those two things must be automated. This information will help you so that the lines that you need to memorize will become automated.

Create Logical Divisions of Text.

        Sometimes, the way the words lay out on the page are based on their poetic presentation rather than their spoken logic. Mark the page or literally re-type so that you can see things in a logical way:

        We will use an example excerpted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

        Original Excerpt:

          To be, or not to be--that is the question:
          Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
          The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
          Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
          And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
          No more--and by a sleep to say we end
          The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
          That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
          Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
          To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
          For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
          When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
          Must give us pause. There's the respect
          That makes calamity of so long life.

        Reorganized text:

          To be, or not to be--that is the question:

          Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them.

          To die, to sleep-- No more--and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to.

          'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.

          To die, to sleep-- To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, ust give us pause.

          There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life.

Repeat Small Sections Without Feeling, With Overlaps to Next Section.

        The reason for this is to develop the muscular memory, separate from the emotional memory. You may have to repeat the same line between 20-200 times before it feels automatic. Do it without expression. Make sure you overlap what you say with the next word or two of the next line. This way, you are automating your preparedness, so it will happen instinctively, without effort.

          To be, or not to be--that is the question:

          Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them.

        The lines to repeat are indicated in bold text. The last few words you say in one repetition cycle become the first few words of the next repetition cycle. This means that there is a very literal overlap of words, to create the flow.

        If you are doing a speech or a monologue, the process is very clear cut. If you are doing a play, where other people’s lines are interspersed with yours, then you have a choice to practice the overlap from or to their lines, or to strictly do it with your lines only. There is no exact rule about this and you have to experiment to see what works for you. If you are waiting for someone’s cue and you haven’t memorized what that is, then you will have problems, so it may be worthwhile to grab the tail end of their lines and PRECEDE your repetitions of your lines by including their lines with your lines. Say their lines very soft, so there is a dynamic difference. This way, you will muscularly memorize your lines, but be aware of their lines and how they set your lines up.

Create a Mental Index.

        When you think of just the first word or two of each of your line, this is your index. If you practice saying just these index words (in addition to running the full lines) then you will be cementing in an overview of WHAT LINE COMES NEXT!

          To be, or not to be--that is the question:

          Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them.

          To die, to sleep-- No more--and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to.

          'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.

          To die, to sleep-- To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, ust give us pause.

          There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life.

        Literally say the first few words of each line, in sequence, as if it was its own line! It would sound like this:

          To be, or not to be… Whether 'tis nobler… To die, to sleep…'Tis a consummation… There's the respect…

        Sometimes, you remember the lines fine, but you just forget which one comes next. The mental indexing will help you see the context and feel secure.

Record Yourself and Play Back.

        Use a cassette recorder or a micro cassette recorder or a digital dictation device to record yourself saying the thing you want to memorize. Then play this back to yourself over and over in the background, while you are doing other things. This will create a complement to the other techniques listed above and will help add a subliminal or intuitive awareness as you develop the “aural memory.”

Vary Your Speed.

        Purposely practice the passage at least 2 ADDITIONAL ways:

      • 1) SUPER FAST without feeling, to develop the sheer rote memorization
      • 2) SUPER SLOW without feeling. This is harder than you think. The benefit here is that it gives you more “think ahead” time before each new thought and this quality will be retained when you go back to the normal speed
      • With the above two techniques, make note of any place that you have faltered and then zero in on this section and repeat ONLY THAT SECTION MANY TIMES.

Exaggerate the Emotion.

        When you exaggerate something, you can always do less later. It’s like a runner who practices running five miles so that one mile will appear to be easy. If a line is supposed to be sarcastic, or funny or silly, or fearful, or angry in your delivery, EXAGGERATE that quality in your voice. You can always tame it down for the final performance. But by INCLUDING the exaggerated emotion as you build it in to the the practice, it will actually help you to memorize the lines themselves because of the ASSOCIATION of the feeling and the text.

About These Tips.

        HowardRichman2005-11smThese tips were prepared by Howard Richman and are offered for free as a courtesy. He regularly works with actors and singers who need help with technical skills such as line memorization and lyric memorization techniques.

 

 

 

 

“This method really hellped me to memorize Shakespeare for my class.”

—Ayre Lavin, 10th Grade
Encino, CA
 

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Last updated Friday, April 04, 2014