Monday, February 07, 2022

6 different ways of presenting lyrics when teaching and learning songs

There are many different way of offering lyrics to singers, more so if your choir doesn’t use sheet music.

None of the options are perfect. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

In an ideal world, singers would be looking at the choir leader and each other and focusing on listening when learning a new song.

Unfortunately, singers often end up with their heads down looking at lyrics.

Can we avoid this? Here are the various ways of presenting lyrics, each with their advantages and disadvantages.

1. hard copy in each singer’s hands – this is the most common option, especially if a choir learns from sheet music.


  • every singer has their own hard copy
  • easily transportable, no reliance on tech
  • can be easily fitted into a bag or pocket


  • easily mislaid or forgotten – if a singer loses their copy, it will have to be replaced
  • singers will be looking down instead of up and out
  • on sheet music, if a song has many verses, they are often written in blocks below the notation. It’s very easy to get lost reading the music when you have to scan back and forth between lyrics and notation
  • one-size-fits-all text and font might not suit every singer – singers who are not neuro-typical may have specific problems with font size, layout, text and paper colour, etc.
  • an expensive way to produce lyrics: printing costs, paper, etc.

2. large sheets of paper on the wall – very common in learn by ear choirs


  • singers don’t have to remember to bring lyric sheets
  • words can be large and easier to read
  • lyric sheets can be used again and again
  • light weight and easily transportable by folding smaller, or rolling up
  • lyrics can be written up in real time
  • verse/chorus, etc. can be in different colours to help with structure


  • there may not be a suitable wall or surface to attach the lyric sheet to
  • choir leaders will have more stuff to carry around
  • in large groups, some singers may not be able to see the lyrics (so sometimes you’ll need several sheets up in different parts of the room)
  • people with poor long distance vision may not be able to read the words unless they’re really, really large or they stand close
  • songs with many verses will need many large sheets

3. learn entirely by ear – no written lyrics in any shape or form


  • learning lyrics in this way will really bed them in
  • no problem putting away lyric sheets when a concert comes up as everyone’ “off the page” from the very start
  • no need to produce lyric sheets in any form
  • demonstrating pronunciation of unfamiliar words is easier than trying to write phonetically


  • some singers may need to see the words before they can remember them, especially foreign lyrics
  • it can take much longer to learn a song in this way
  • songs with many verses can be problematic
  • choir leaders may avoid interesting, more complex songs and stick to those with few words

4. on a personal digital device – such as smartphone or tablet


  • singers can zoom in, change font, alter colour of background, etc. to suit their needs
  • lyrics can be uploaded to the choir website and singers download as and when they need to whichever device suits them best (or even print out their own hard copy)
  • less likely to lose or forget a smartphone than a sheet of paper!
  • lyrics can be edited, added to, moved around, laid out differently over time


  • basically a high tech version of individual lyric sheets, with the same disadvantages (see above)
  • not everyone has access to a portable digital device – this will exclude many singers
  • some singers simply won’t be tech savvy enough (e.g. downloading lyrics)

5. image projected onto the wall – a high tech version of large sheets of paper


  • no need to carry big sheets of paper around
  • projection can be scaled up so everyone can see clearly
  • no need for individual lyric sheets


  • needs a good, clean, vertical surface to project on
  • you have to bring a projector or attachment for your phone/tablet
  • you may need a power source
  • rehearsal space needs to have dim lighting in order to see projected image
  • more stuff for the choir leader to remember to bring

6. a mixed approach – some choirs offer alternatives and each singer can then choose what suits them best


  • I personally think this is the best approach – singers aren’t one uniform body, they each have different needs


  • more work for the choir leader!



Whichever option you choose, there will always be individual singers who bypass it and choose their own option. For example, by taking a photo of a large lyric sheet on their phone or by Googling the song and printing out their own lyrics.

That’s fine, each to their own. As long as the majority of singers buy into the approach you’ve decided to use.

I’d love to hear which method you use or if I’ve left anything out.

other posts of interest

You might find these other posts useful too.

How to deal with song lyrics

How to stop singers using word sheets in concerts

What’s the best way to present lyrics when teaching a song?

Chris Rowbury


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