Poetic devices are used to paint a meaningful picture with words. You can apply metaphors, similes, and other effects to explain your thoughts better. And they’ll make your songs more relatable. Here are four that every songwriter should experiment with.
This device is used to create flow among words. The effect depends on the sound of the beginning consonant or vowel, as well as the word itself. Alliteration with Ps can make the singer sound like he is spitting words out in angst or disgust. Alliteration with S’s can sound like hissing. Alliteration with W’s, like in the Beatle’s song “Let it Be,” can give a very smoothened, consistent sound to lyrics. “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”
Often, people can’t tell how you feel about a particular situation, unless you compare it to something more relatable. For example, Switchfoot’s “Your Love is a Song” equates the feeling of love with the feeling of music. “Ooh your love is a symphony. All around me, running through me.” Just as a symphony is graceful, calming, and absorbing, so too is love. Use metaphors and similes to enhance description.
Make animals or objects relatable to us by giving them human thoughts or actions. In other words, project your own feelings onto other things. For example, in Death Cab for Cutie’s “Crooked Teeth,” tears (or hanging branches and leaves) of a willow tree are personified. “It just hung in the air and refused to fall.” Here, they are portrayed as willfully not falling and holding back. This conveys trying to be strong and not showing sadness.
Apply this device when you want to emphasize the point you make. In Cage the Elephant’s “Shake Me Down,” the vocalist sings, “I’ll keep my eyes fixed on the sun.” He does not literally mean he will be staring at the blinding sun in the sky. Rather, he paints a picture of staying hopeful and optimistic, without explicitly stating that. Hyperboles give exaggeration for effect.
Using too many literary devices in one song can make it confusing. But using just the right amount will make it sound enchanting.
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Michelle Nguyen is a writer whose passions include music, sports, health, and wellness. She loves playing drums and bass guitar, as well as swimming. If she indirectly helps you write the next “Stairway to Heaven,” she will be very happy.