Monday, May 08, 2023

Why you might need lyric sheets for even simple songs in English

I usually try not to use lyric sheets at all. I’d rather have singers with their heads up, watching me and each other.

But sometimes, if a song is in a foreign language, or has lots of words, I’ll put lyrics up.

If a song is in English with few words, and I’m teaching an English-speaking group, I won’t put give lyrics out.

However, I’ve been reminded a couple of times recently why this is not always a good idea.

I taught a one-day Paul Simon workshop. Everybody knows and loves Simon and Garfunkel! I figured everyone would know (most of) the words. It was a great success, but at the end, a woman came up to me and pointed out that her first language was Spanish and she had difficulty following the lyrics.

More recently, I had this comment after a one-day workshop:

“Would you mind if I made a small suggestion which would have made the day even more enjoyable?  I have a lousy memory for words, so any chance you could put up the words to English songs as well?  Struggling to remember the words (I know that I could “la-la” it), made it more difficult to concentrate on the tune.”

In both these cases, the singers would have liked to have had the lyrics.

However, I reckon the majority of singers at these workshops managed quite well without them. I wouldn’t want to give lyrics to everyone because they’ll soon have their heads buried in paper even if they know the words (I know I do!).

Maybe I could offer to give out lyric sheets to those who need them? But in my experience, people don’t like being outside their comfort zone so I think pretty much everyone would want lyrics, just to be on the safe side.

The singer who gave the feedback and said they “have a lousy memory for words” may just be impatient or unfamiliar with learning by ear. I always point out that you won’t get the lyrics or tune the first time round, or even the second or third … But some people think they need to get it straightaway.

There are lots of elements to unpick here. These are the takeaway points for me:

  • not everyone in the group may have English as their first language
  • some people struggle with remembering lyrics
  • given the opportunity, most singers will want lyric sheets as a kind of security blanket
  • sometimes “a lousy memory” is just unfamiliarity, impatience or inexperience with listening rather than seeing
  • it takes time to learn a new song regardless of how simple the lyrics are
  • don’t assume every singer in the group has the same needs

I’d love to know how you cope with situations like these, whether as a singer or choir leader.  Do drop by and leave a comment.

Chris Rowbury


Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox!

Click to subscribe by email.


found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may like to ...

... to say thank you.





Monthly Music Round-up: