So, you’re walking through the grocery store one day and they have this really catchy song blaring through their aisles. Under normal circumstances, you would never dream of listening to the latest pop songs, but this one manages to suck you in and by the time you leave the store, it has become a permanent addition to your memory’s music gallery. Sure, you might not remember all the words to the verses (or is it verse? I can’t remember), but every night when you drift off to sleep, that annoying chorus trumpets through your brain. No matter how hard you try to forget it, the song refuses to leave. And guess what? The next time you go to the store, you hear the song again, and this time, you leave the store with a new supply of lyric snatches—lyric snatches your brain will spend countless hours trying to complete, whether you want it to or not.
Does this situation sound familiar? If you are a strong auditory learner, you’ve probably had this experience more times than you care to recall. Let’s face it: our brains love puzzles. And if you’re anything like me, your brain thrives on a nearly constant diet of music. Hi, my name is Danika Puhek, and I have been memorizing Scripture through song for as long as I can remember. But before I get into the reasons why I memorize through song, I have a slight confession to make.
You see, memorization has never been much of a challenge for me. I’ve memorized scores of scientific definitions, pages of math formulae, countless spelling words, and myriads of trivia tidbits without batting an eyelash. All I have to do is write down the information and then repeat it over and over to myself until I can reproduce it from memory. Sounds pretty easy, right?
Now, you’re probably thinking, “If memorizing comes so easily for you, why would you go to all that trouble of putting hundreds of Scripture passages to music when you could just sit down and memorize them through repetition?”
The reason is actually pretty simple. While the whole repetition thing works great for memorizing small pieces of information (like science definitions), I’ve found that it doesn’t work so great if I’m trying to remember massive amounts of information over a long period of time. The repetition process is a tedious nightmare to begin with, and the information has a nasty habit of entering the brain through one ear and then leaking out the other the moment the information is no longer a top priority. Ever spent the entire day memorizing a passage, only to forget most of it the next day when you start memorizing something else? You know what I’m talking about.
So for me, I knew there was no way I was going to memorize and retain hundreds of verses in three short months if all I did was repeat them over and over to myself. I needed a “glue” of some sort to cement the verses into my memory. And if that glue could somehow make the whole memory process a joy instead of sheer drudgery, that would be ideal.
Music is my ideal memorizing glue. I’m one of those people who always has a song playing through my head, and most of the time, I would rather have Scripture attached to the song than the actual lyrics. By singing my passages, I not only give my brain something to focus on besides the dreary black words on the verse cards, but I also have tons of fun memorizing my passages. Imagine memorizing Scripture and jamming out to your favorite tunes at the same time. It’s amazing!
As I sing the passage over and over, paying close attention to every word so I can get consistent phrasing, the song becomes a part of the passage, and it’s the song that cements the passage into my brain. I memorized James 4:1-17 years ago, and I can still both sing and quote it perfectly. Why? Because James 4:1-17 is the one and only passage I have ever put to Disney’s Let It Go. The more catchy and unique the tune, the more likely I am to both initially memorize the passage and retain it for years to come.
Putting each of my passages to unique tunes also makes it far less likely for me to accidently confuse my references. Each and every reference sings a different song to me, regardless of how similar they may look or sound when read or spoken. (For clarification purposes, when I say “unique songs”, I mean a different song for every passage. NOT original music that I have composed. Though I do compose music, and I have used that music for some Scripture passages, my main method for putting Scripture to song involves “piggy-backing” on pre-existing songs, like Let It Go, or Amazing Grace.)
For those of you who are interested, here are some tips on how to get started:
1. Make a list of all the songs you can recall.
You want this list to be exhaustive! Include everything: Classical, Pop, Broadway showtunes, Disney songs, Hymns, Nursery ditties, Celtic songs, etc. This list will become your lifesaver when you’re staring at a new stack of passages. I can tell you from experience that staring at a fresh, new stack of daunting Bible Bee passages is going to suck every song you ever knew out of your head (with maybe one or two exceptions). But never fear, you have your trusty list to consult when you’re certain the theme to Gilligan’s Island is the only song you have ever heard. It will have you putting your passages to song in no time.
2. Experiment with finding the perfect song for the perfect passage.
Ah yes. The lovely step of trial and error. Believe it or not, there is actually an art form to selecting the right song for the right passage. For example, if the passage is, say, twenty verses long, you probably shouldn’t put it to Mary Had A Little Lamb (unless you happen to be the one person on earth who’s life dream is to sing a thirty verse version of Mary Had A Little Lamb). I also don’t recommend putting long passages to slow tunes. I’ve done it—it’s painful. Please save yourself the trouble. Broadway tunes work well for long passages, as do Disney songs and upbeat Celtic songs. And if you feel like you’ve been singing the same song for too long, switch to a different song. Just make sure you mark the song change on your verse card. I’ve also found that if a song is super syncopated, you might have a hard time matching up the phrasing with a scripture passage. Experiment, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and stick with the stuff that works.
3. Write down which song/songs you use for each scripture passage—directly on the card.
You might think you’ll remember what songs you put to your passages . . . trust me, you won’t. Every time you find that perfect song, write it down on the verse card. My Bible is full of tiny song titles I’ve scribbled up the sides of the chapters I’ve memorized. Because I took the time to write down all of those song titles, I can go back and refresh those passages without having to do a ton of brain damage while I try to remember which songs I used for those chapters.
4. Once you can sing the passage from memory, start transitioning to quoting the passage.
This is the most painful and frustrating step of the whole “memorizing through song” method, but it’s also the most important step. As you transition between singing and speaking, you might feel like you’re slipping backward. You might make mistakes you’ve never made before and you might feel like you’re losing the passage’s tune. That’s normal (at least for me). Just keep pushing through until you can speak the passage perfectly from memory. By the time you can do that, you will know the passage cold. One quick warning: as you transition between singing and speaking, watch out for syncopated phrases. You don’t want to speak the passage with the song’s syncopation, though it’s not the end of the world if you do.
5. Always be on the lookout for new music.
I am always looking for new songs to use for my passages, especially upbeat, catchy songs. The more unique tunes you use, the easier it will be for you to retain your passages in the future, provided you don’t use the same tune for more than one passage. Every time you hear a song you think would work for a passage, add it to your song list. But one quick note of caution: if the song is new to you, you will probably have to listen to it several times before you attempt to put a Scripture passage to it. The more familiar you are with your music, the easier it will be to piggy-back a Scripture passage onto it.
6. Try recording yourself singing the passages.
Recording your passages and then listening to them over and over is a great, painless way to both learn and review your passages. While I don’t tend to use this method, most of my younger siblings do, and it work great for them. BUT . . . if you do decide to record your passages, make sure you are 100% accurate. You don’t want to accidentally get an error cemented into your brain. They are very hard to unlearn.
I hope that I’ve (maybe) convinced you that memorizing Scripture through song is a valid option as you prepare to memorize scripture over the summer and hopefully into that fall as well. I can tell you from first-hand experience that singing Scripture passages is amazingly fun. You will still have to put in countless hours to get all of those passages memorized, but having music as your constant companion makes the whole memorizing journey far more engaging and enjoyable. Plus, if you put a memory passage to that annoying pop song that won’t leave you alone, you can fall to sleep with the sweet sound of God’s Word in your ears
Written by NBB Alumna: Danika Puhek