27 minutes and 31 seconds. That’s how long it took me to learn a 14 line Shakespeare sonnet.
I don’t go in for memory tricks, and I actually think using them can be a real problem for actors. If you are doing a Hamlet monologue and going through some sort of memory palace while speaking your lines, how can you connect to the given circumstances of the scene? You can’t. However, I think I have finally found a line learning technique that doesn’t require some weird memory trick, and actually works! This line learning process has allowed me to learn lines on average 4 times faster. And in some cases, I would say up to 10 times faster!
Line Learning Technique
So let’s get into it and hopefully, the agony of line learning will be a thing of the past! It’s super simple and I hope you fall in love as much as I have. If you are more of a visual learner, or just love video content, we have created a full video guide below.
Step #1: Get a pad of paper
So you are going to need a blank piece of paper or a notebook. (The more outrageously big the better.) Oh, and you also need something to learn, so get your scene or monologue out. I generally find that this technique works best for monologues and poems, or any block of text, though it does definitely work for scenes as well. If you are keen to learn this process I would grab something now so that you can give this a go straight away.
Step #2: Get familiar with the text
Next, you want to get familiar with the text, just read it over so you have a good understanding of what it’s about – this will help with any line learning technique. It’s why learning Shakespeare monologues is so hard for actors who have never worked with Shakespeare before (it just makes no sense). So, look up any unfamiliar words, and really try to understand the thoughts behind the lines. Doing your acting preparation before learning lines is always the way to go.
Step #3: Write out the first letter of every word.
Once you are familiar with whatever you are working on, we can get started. So, very simply, you are going to write the first letter of every word of your text onto your paper. I’ve talked a bit about Shakespeare so far, but today we are going to look a slightly more contemporary example from The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. Here are a few sentences that we will look at:
Lopakhin: I bought it…I bought it! One moment…wait…if you would, ladies and gentlemen… My head’s going round and round, I can’t speak. So now the cherry orchard is mine! Mine! Great God in heaven – the cherry orchard is mine! Tell me I’m drunk – I’m out of my mind – tell me it’s all an illusion…
So as I mentioned what we are going to do is write down on our page the first letter of every word. This should look something like this:
I B I …I B I! O M…W…I Y W, L A G…M H G R A R, I C S. S N T C O I M! G G I H – T C O I M! T M I D – I O O M M – T M I A A I…
Remember, include punctuation. We want to learn punctuation as well as it is very important especially with great writers like Chekhov.
Take your time to go through the text and make sure it is perfect. You should then have your entire scene or monologue written out in this way. I always use capitals as well, but up to you. It might look like complete and utter nonsense, but I promise you this is so good. This technique has changed my life.
Step #4: Learning from the letters
So now we can rip up the original monologue! (Actually, maybe not yet, we may still need to refer to that). But what we want to see is if we can learn the piece just from the letters. The letter should serve as a subtle reminder of what the original word was and so create a little bridge in your memory. Take your time early on and try your best not to refer to the original script.
You may occasionally need to go back to the original, but ideally, you can do it just from the letters. Take as long as it takes to remember it, working through line by line. Then keep going until you can effortlessly do the speech just using the letters.
Step #5: Putting it to memory
Now that you can do it just from the letters we want to see if we can do it without the paper. Like with any line learning process just work through one line at a time and once you have a line, move onto the next. If you mess up when trying from your memory, go back to the letters not the original (unless you absolutely have to).
I think why this is so powerful is it’s testing your memory even when you mess up because you’re not giving up completely and going back to the original, you’re going to the letter which serves as a sort of gateway to the original word.
In no time at all, you should be able to have the lines ingrained in your memory.
If you are learning a monster, break the piece into sections and don’t try to learn it all in one go. Ideally, follow the beats of the scene or monologue. Getting one section learnt will be motivating to go onto the next section. But then keep going back to the top, this will solidify all the work you have already learnt.
How to Learn Lines Fast (FULL VIDEO)
So there you go… It’s super easy, but really powerful technique.
The reason I like it is that it isn’t a memory trick. I am not thinking about the letters when I perform. It is simply a better way of coding the information. But don’t take my word for it, if you are an actor, go learn a scene, monologue or poem and see if it helps. For more line learning we have other videos and blog posts on the channel.