Linked mental pictures help you memorize psalms

Seven Tips & Tricks to Memorize Psalms

By Jean E. Jones @JeanEstherJones

Did my last post, Why Memorize Psalms? 10 Good Reasons, leave you wondering just how anyone would go about memorizing psalms?
Now, I know people who can read a long passage a few times and it’s memorized. I’m not like that. So when I decided to memorize some psalms, I first read up on memory tricks. Here are six tips I’ve found particularly helpful.

1. Pick a Bible Version that Aids Memorization

Indented lines help you memorize psalms

Tips 1+3. Indented lines help you memorize psalms–so does drawing in your Bible

Memorizing will be easier if you choose a Bible version that breaks the psalms into stanzas and lines rather than printing them as paragraphs. Hebrew poetry consists of poetic lines with parallel parts, and being able to see those parts one above the other will help you see their relationships, and that will help you memorize. For example, look at Psalm 30:5 as it’s indented in ESV (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version)) below:

For his anger is but for a moment,

and his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may tarry for the night,

but joy comes with the morning.

See the relationships? That helps you remember.

2. Recite Aloud Every Day with One New Verse per Day

Andrew M. Davis wrote a helpful little book called An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture. In his method, you review every day and add one new verse per day, using these three steps.

  1. “Yesterday’s verse first”: Begin by reciting the verse you added the day before ten times aloud, looking if you need to.
  2. “Old verses next, altogether”: Recite everything you’ve memorized to date aloud, peeking if you forget anything.
  3. “New verse”: Begin memorizing the next verse in the passage by saying it ten times while staring hard at the words.
Memorize psalms with linked pictures

Tip 3. Hyssop linked to snow to remember Psalm 51:7

Davis emphasizes saying the verses aloud and “photographing the verses with your eyes.” To help me “photograph” the line, I cover everything below it with a white card while I say it and stare at it. When I’ve said it enough times to remember it, I’ll cover the line, picture it in my mind, and say it, then immediately uncover and read the line to reinforce it.

3. Use Linked Mental Pictures

Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas in The The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, at School, and at Play explain that “thoughts may be associated to each other, so that one thought will remind you of the next thought” (p. 24). They advise you to think of a mental image that reminds you of the first item you want to remember, and then associate it with a picture of the second item you want to remember. Then take the second picture and associate it with an image of the third, and so on until you’ve linked all the items you want to remember.
This is very easy with visual psalms such as Psalm 23, but let me show you how to do it with a passage that has intangibles. Here’s Psalm 51:7-8 with a key word in each line in bold:

Linked pictures help you memorize psalms

Tip 3. Snow linked to hear (ear) to remember Psalm 51:7-8

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

For intangibles, substitute an image of something that sounds similar (ear for “hear” or Mary for “marry”) or connects in some way (a hand holding a tissue for “blot”). The pictures demonstrate how to associate each key word with the next. You can also sketch the pictures in your Bible.

4. Review with a Recording

When I’ve memorized several verses of a psalm, I play a recording while I recite it. This seems to engage a different part of the brain than reading: I stumble in different places! You can use the audio feature of Bible apps such as YouVersion or record yourself reading the psalm slowly and with feeling into your cellphone’s recording app, pausing between stanzas. (I usually start with YouVersion and switch to my own recording when I’m just about done with the psalm. By that time, I know how I want to read it.)

Memorize psalms with linked pictures

Tip 3. Hear linked to bones to remember Psalm 51:8

Of course, if you’re musically inclined, put the psalm to music like the Israelites did and you’ll learn it even faster.

5. Remember the Stanza Flow

Make a mental note of each stanza’s central point so you can remember their order. Here’s Psalm 30 by verse numbers:

  • 1-3: Praise
  • 4-5: Divine description
  • 6-7: Dilemma
  • 8-10: Dilemma’s prayer
  • 11-12: Thanksgiving

6. Pay Attention to Parallelism to Memorize Psalms

The most significant aspect of Hebrew poetry is its use of parallelism. Parallelism is a huge help in memorizing, as you can see in Psalm 1:1:

Parallelism helps you memorize psalms

Tip 6. Noticing parallelism helps you memorize psalms

See how much easier it is to remember how the line flows when you see the parallel parts laid out like this? The structure here is diagrammed like this: A / B C D / B’ C’ D’ / B’’ C’’ D’’. Most Hebrew poetic lines are either A B / A’ B’ or A B / B’ A’. Paying attention to how the parallel elements relate to each other helps your memory. I often write out stanzas with the parallel items stacked so I can visualize them better.

7. Use Tricks for Synonyms to Memorize Psalms

Memorize psalms with memory tricks

Tips 3+7. Face linked to blot and lips sighing (SI=Sins Iniquities) to remember Psalm 51:9

I found Psalm 51 difficult to memorize because of all the synonyms for sin. So I made a mental picture of “TIS” next to the first stanza (standing for Transgressions, Iniquity, Sin) and “TSSE IS” next to the second stanza (Transgressions, Sin, Sinned, Evil, Iniquity, Sin). For the third stanza, I took the mental picture of face linked to blot and added sighing lips to remind me of “SI” (Sins, Iniquities; see the illustration).

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There you have it: the seven tips and tricks to help you memorize psalms!

Have you used these tips and tricks? What additional tips and tricks help you memorize?

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5 Comments

  1. I memorized Isaiah 6:1-9 by reciting out loud, peeking, going back to beginning until I had all verses down. Repeated every day until it was locked tight in my memory. (These days that can take a bit of extra effort).

  2. Pingback: Why Memorize Psalms? 10 Good Reasons | Jean E. Jones

  3. My son attends a Christian school here in Colorado so weekly scripture memorization is a requirement. Last week, they just wrapped up memorizing Psalm 139. Their technique was both to use in class song-type recitation along with adding a new verse or 3 each week. There is fruit to be born from having the Word memorized.

    • That’s great–putting verse to song is the best way to memorize. I’m not musically inclined and so I appreciate it when anyone does this for me. That school is doing a great service for the students.

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