Poetic Devices in Songs

By teaching about poetic devices in music teachers can provide a creative way to practice reading, writing, and language skills.

By Barbara Moseley


Poetic Devices in Songs

Lyrics in music can create imagery in the listener's mind, stir emotions, and at times, lend an epiphany. If you get the idea that you can feel, taste, and smell the images that are being described, chances are, you have been exposed to poetic devicesPoetic devices can, and should, be introduced as soon as pre-school with rhyme and repetition. Lessons for elementary students can delve into the use of metaphors, similes, hyperboles, alliteration, imagery, personification, point-of-view, and symbols. Honing the craft of songwriting is improved greatly when one fully understands the uses of poetic devices. From Bob Dylan and U2, to John Mayer and Five for Fighting, you will find the most amazing poetry.

Musical experiences would be greatly changed if you take a few phrases and play with them.  Choose a favorite song and rewrite it to see if you can make it better or worse. Start with a metaphor perhaps.  Metaphors are comparisons between two objects. For instance, the lyrics "I am a rock, I am an island". If a comparison uses "like" or "as", that is called a simile. If the songwriter had used a simile instead of a metaphor, the lyric would have been, “I am like a rock, I am like an island". This would have thrown off the timing, and would have lessened the impact of the song. Try singing your new version, or having your students perform it for each other. 

Writing poetry can be intimidating for anyone at first.  Remember to start out simple, and stick to a limited amount of devices at first.  Rhyming and repetition, or similes and metaphors are a good way to begin for first through fourth graders.  Give them a line or two to get started creating rhymes, or try creating dice with different adjectives and see what similes you can come up with. Below are a few lesson plans that can get you started.

Poetic Devices in Songs:

Literary Devices in Music Lyrics:  In this lesson ninth grade students are introduced to a poetry unit by using pop music lyrics as a means of engaging the students. They analyze the music lyrics structurally and locate literary devices used by the music group. Students write a song using various literary devices.

Choral Poetry:  This lesson for third through sixth grade students explores choral poetry and choral reading. Students rewrite a nursery rhyme, rewrite a folktale to be performed as a choral poem, complete a choral poem scaffolding worksheet, and compose an original choral poem. 

Poetry Study:  In this lesson ninth and tenth grade students are introduced to the elements of poetry. After listening to music, they discuss how it made them feel, and what the lyrics mean to them. Individually, they write their own poem and share it with the class.

The Music of Poetry:  Students express themselves through poetry. They discover the connection between their music and the music of poetry. They develop public speaking skills.

Introduction to Poetry:  In this lesson sixth through eighth grade students are introduced to poetry and music. They discuss what the two have in common. They identify their favorite song and explain why.


Music Guide

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Barbara Moseley