While the song “What Does The Fox Say” has made its way to the top of the charts, it isn’t the best example of how lyrics can make or break a song. If you’re thinking of entering a songwriting competition, you’ll fare better using other hit song techniques in your lyrics to make it memorable and get you that reward.
Songwriters are often faced with the challenge of using descriptive language to express thoughts and emotions they want their audience to experience while keeping it simple enough to get commercial attention. In addition, they only have less than 4 minutes to get their message across. To overcome this challenge, a lot of songwriters use literary devices. So, what are literary devices? If you remember your English Lit class, you might remember some examples of these such as metaphors, rhymes, and alliterations. Yes, these are literary devices that are used in writing books and poetry. But the same devices also work great when you’re writing a hit song. After all, aren’t lyrics poetry in music?
3 Literary Devices for Songwriting:
There are quite a lot of literary devices you can use to create a winning song. But since we can’t cover them all, we’ll stick with what’s been used time and again by the best in the business.
A metaphor is when you compare two things that are very dissimilar, one of the things being a representation of a trait/action of the other. This comparison creates a conflict because the two “objects” are so unlike and yet they share something in common. And that conflict attracts your audience’s attention, demanding that they listen to what you are saying. It also stimulates their imagination and raises their emotional involvement.
Some great examples of metaphors in songs are:
Loser by Beck: “In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey.”
Human Nature by Michael Jackson: “If this town is just an apple, then let me take a bite.”
One by U2: “Love is a temple.”
Your Love is a Song by Switchfoot: “Your love is a symphony.”
She’s Every Woman by Garth Brooks: “She’s sun and rain, she’s fire and ice.”
Our Song by Taylor Swift: “Our song is the slamming screen door.”
Lyrics that rhyme are quite memorable. They’re catchy, hooking your listeners’ attention and imprinting them to their memory. Rhyming words also serves as a great accompaniment to the melody’s rhythm. If you want to be a successful songwriter, you’ll need to use some rhyming schemes in your lyrics. Not too much though so the song doesn’t sound like it should be sung by preschool kids.
Before you start rhyming away, you’ll need to first understand that there are different types of rhymes. This is because it’ll help you avoid repeating one type over and over in your song. Most of us are familiar with the perfect rhyme. This is when the ending sounds of two words are identical. Some examples include fat and cat, light and white, and doom and gloom. Another type is called the imperfect rhyme, also known as the half-rhyme, where the sounds are close to rhyming instead of identical. Some examples include soul and all, ladies and bodies, and moon and on. There’s also what is called the inner line or inside rhyme. Unlike the other types of rhymes, this one occurs twice within one line – one in the middle and one at the end. For example, “together we’re great so it must be fate.”
Aside from having different types of rhymes to use in your song, you can also choose to use different rhyming schemes. One of the popularly used rhyme schemes is the ABAB or interlocking rhyme scheme. This scheme is used in verses that have 4 lines. The first and third lines rhyme just as the second and fourth do. Another scheme is XAXA where only lines 2 and 4 rhyme. Lines 1 and 3 do not. The AABB scheme is when the rhymed couplets are lines 1 + 2 and lines 3 + 4. Other rhyme schemes include ABBA, AXXA, AXAA, and AAAA.
Keep in mind that while rhymes are one of the best literary devices for songs, you shouldn’t overuse them. Doing so will make your song boring and possibly even affect the message you are trying to convey. In addition, be unpredictable when it comes to your rhymes. You can make use of different rhyme schemes instead of using the same one in all of your verses including your chorus.
This literary device is also popularly used in songwriting. A simile is quite similar to a metaphor except that a simile uses qualifiers such as “like” and “as” when comparing two unlike objects. There are two types of similes: the implicit and the explicit. The implicit simile uses “like” and lets the listeners figure out for themselves which traits the objects have in common. For example, “she is slow like a snail.” The explicit simile uses “as” and directly states which trait is being compared. For example, “Her head is as hard as a rock.”
The use of this literary device helps communicate your ideas to your listeners while evoking emotions from them as well – especially when you use a familiar concept when comparing it to the idea that you want to convey. The best way to use a simile in your lyrics is to use a comparison that hasn’t been done before or one that is rarely used. Using clichés in your lyrics isn’t going to help you win any awards. And it won’t endear you to your target audience either. Predictable lyrics are boring.
Below are some good examples of similes in hit songs:
It’s My Life by Bon Jovi: “My heart is like an open highway.”
Like a Prayer by Madonna: “It’s like a dream, no end and no beginning.”
Candle in the Wind by Elton John: “And it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind.”
Iris by Goo Goo Dolls: “When everything feels like the movies, yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive.”
Ironic by Alanis Morissette: “It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.”
Whether you’re creating lyrics for a songwriting competition or simply writing to share your idea or story to people, these 3 literary devices can help you stimulate your audience’s imagination, manipulate their emotions, and keep your song in their memories for a long time.