Two Crucial Keys to Memorization

Chain, Chain, Chains... Chains and Cues

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For years I’ve heard the debate about whether church musicians should use sheet music, chord charts, and music stands during a service. I have my own thoughts on this topic, but one thing is certain: the ability to memorize and recall music is an indispensable tool for every musician. Whether it’s a ‘four chord and a capo’ worship song or a 30-page classical piano solo, this is a skill every musician should develop. Here's how.

For some musicians, memorization seems to come effortlessly, while others struggle to remember an 8-bar passage. We’ve all spent countless times playing and replaying the music in our heads, trying to assure ourselves that we’ve got it. How can you improve your ability to memorize? Practice! And like anything, practicing the right way. Here are two ideas that may help you become a better memorizer.

Ultimately, the better you memorize and the more you practice, the more free you will feel during worship.


When you think of music as a series of chains, one musical idea leads to the next. The nice thing about learning in chains is that once we learn a sequence well, it feels natural. The problem is that it can depend on circumstance. I can remember playing for hours in a tiny practice room in college my freshman year. At the end of the year I performed on a big grand piano on a stage rather than the little upright in the practice room. It was as if I had completely forgotten my music. My circumstance changed. The room. The piano. The environment. The noises. The people. Everything changed and that distracted me from being able to recall the next musical idea. Have you ever played a passage only to get into an endless loop? In that moment, that was me. For an example of a chain, say the alphabet. Now say it backwards. Not that easy, is it? Why? Because we've memorized the chain of A,B,C,D,E,F,… rather than Z,Y,X,W,V,U. Chains are a great tool for memorizing, but if you want to become an expert, there has to be more.


Specific points in music that you can instantly recall are called ‘cues’. These cues allow you to get back on track should you forget what chain is coming next. Like anyhting in music, cues must be rehearsed. This way, you can start immediately anywhere in the song. What do cues look like?

Basic - Basic cues include perhaps the way you might voice certain sections or the fingering you use on a melody.

Sections - These are natural breaks in the song: a verse, chorus, or bridge. Usually there’s a musical change tied to these sections, so it’s fairly easy to remember each section. All you have to do is put the sections in the right order. It’s also a lot easier to remember the chord changes of each section rather than to view the song as a whole.

Mood - Mood cues help you know when a section of the song changes, for instance, from solemn and reflective to triumphant and powerful. Think of how many Hillsong tunes build to a huge bridge or solo.

Interpretive - These cues signifiy musical changes such as tempo, dynamics, and the way you might personally interpret a section of the song.

Putting it together

How to you combine all of these chains and cues in order to memorize more effectively? Chains happen more naturally, so practicing the song from top to bottom over and over will help that. But, don’t just practice from top to bottom, start at different cues in the song. Start at the intro and then jump to the bridge. Start at the softest part and jump to the loudest. Start at the solo. Start at the most difficult part. Jump around so that you can start at any point in the song. Make sure you are concentrating on the chords for each section. You should be able to instantly recall the chord structure of each section. Is it a 1564 or 6415 progression? Then combine the sections to form the entire song.

The Real Challenge and The Real Reward

At the end of the day, as keyboardists, we are not playing extremely challenging worship songs. The more challenging aspects can be changing sounds at the right time, playing to a click, playing with feel and musicality, and using arpeggios effectively. Remembering the chord structure and form of the song is something in which you should gain proficiency in order to concentrate on those other aspects. Ultimately, the better you memorize and the more you practice, the more free you will feel during worship. That allows you to truly engage in the worship moment rather than having your head stuck in a page.

Clue Into the Cues on These Tunes


Tempo: Up

Song Key: C

Whom Shall I Fear (God Of Angel Armies)

Artist: Chris Tomlin

Click on delay. Play riffs. Sound cool.

Watch for that cymbal on the chorus.

Great hits on the chorus

Four on the floor chords!


Tempo: Medium

Song Key: D


Artist: Jesus Culture

Love the simplicity of this tune

Intricate kick pattern but you got this!!

Great groove pattern with kick and 16th's option.

Delay on a Piano???


Tempo: Medium

Song Key: C

Always More

Artist: Brian Johnson

Don't let the chart fool you. This is an easy one.

Simple pocket groove for this one!

Two Great Grooves!

Easy pulsing piano chords.

Ryan is currently the Worship Director at The Church at Wills Creek in North Alabama. He has been the keyboardist for many Christian artists and has served with several churches including Christ Fellowship and Church of the Highlands. Ryan is the keyboard instructor for and also works as a producer, music educator, and studio musician. Ryan has two children, Josiah and Vivy, and they love spending time on their 100 acre farm.

Two Crucial Keys to Memorization

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Ryan King & B3 lessons

Mr. King,

I have been wondering if you are going to do more B3 lessons!!
Have I missed them somewhere?

Just in case you are still putting them together and need some clues on what is really needed, it is this:

The playing part is to me is straight forward: chords, inversions, glissandos, etc.

Most of music novices and even church bands, will never be able to afford a real B3, a XK5 from Hammond, or a real expensive keyboard. Most are trying to get a handle on the multitude of B3 simulators that really have to be meticulously dialed-in even using their presets. So that leads to the simulators draw bars and the other controls that change the sound drastically. A lengthy lesson or two would be great. I would like, if you would, just as many different sounds and showing the setup for each one. Of course, each simulator is going to be different, but maybe there is a common ground of the drawbars and controls between each one. I believe a lot of subscribers and new subscribers would result from this lesson subject.

Sorry to ramble, I was so excited to see someone tackle the B3 simulator.


Thank you for this very well written. Being severely dyslexic I can use all the help I can get in memorizing.


Can you guys do the song

Miracles by Jesus Culture


I agree totally with that idea. Miracles by Jesus Culture.

Actual Keyboard Music

Do you have any actual sheet music for the keyboard/piano for Spirit of the Living God?

sheet music

yes... it's on the lesson for that song.

Transposing the Sheet Music

Hi Ryan. I love your keyboard tutorials. Our worship band almost never does the songs in the Key that the sheet music is in. I can transpose the chord charts but have difficulty transposing the sheet music. Is there any way we could set something up that I could get the original file type. There is probably a way to change the key with the click of a button. I sent this same request to the general inquiry mailbox on Nov 30 but never got a reply.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Transposing the Sheet Music

This is something that we are looking into. Unfortunately, right now we aren't able to share individual files with our subscribers due to copyright laws. But, again, we are looking into offering the sheet music in other keys. Stay tuned!

Transposing sheet music

See if your church can get ccli songselect. There you get all the chord charts and lead sheets and are all transposable.


Would you be able to do a tutorial on No Other Name by the Planetshakers?

Your IPad App?

For months I've been trying to figure out what you are using in your IPad for switching sounds like you do in the tutorials! I use a couple of Mainstage templates and just can't get sound switching down as smoothly as you do it. So, I thought I ought to just ask if you could point me in the right direction?
Thanks a bunch!

iPad app

It's called Omni TR and it's a controller app specifically for Spectrasonics Omnipshere. I have a full tutorial here. Let me know if you have any other questions. Feel free to email me at

Worship song

Can you do the tutorial to worship you I live by Israel New Breed

You are a blessing

I Enjoy so much watching your videos, reading your articles, as well as the other artist on here. I struggled for a while trying to piece it all together. Lately been stressed feeling I have to do it all..NOW. I’ve gone from simple chords to playing sheets here and there. I have not played for over 20 years, started playing again about 4 years ago. I’ve refreshed quite a lot, almost all chords, treble music, of course signature and keys and notes. Slowly getting bass chords, reading music. Goal is to learn inversions, memorize music. Oh and try to put together a new rig set, and have no clue where to start.. not much lol.
There is so much information here, just from a beginner/ novice trying to advance and get better, thank you for your time and investment into this site to assist and help others. It truly is a blessing for me.