Alliteration, consonance and assonance are among some of the most interesting songwriting tools at our disposal. They each refer to the repetition of a certain set of sounds in neighbouring words or phrases.
The purpose of these literary devices is to provide a sense of continuity and to draw in the listener, much like with rhyming.
In songwriting they may not be quite as easily recognised as rhyming, but when used cleverly can be rather effective in making a lyric more memorable.
They are also fun to sing!
Let’s take a look at some examples of each:
Alliteration occurs with the repetition of consonants at the beginning of adjacent words. It doesn't necessarily have to be the very first sounds in the words that are repeated, but is generally among the first stressed syllables.
You can hear it in old sayings such as “right as rain”, “good as gold” and “the sweet smell of success”. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” is another well-known example.
It can also be seen in such song titles as Elton John’s “Sad Songs Say So Much” and “Bell Bottom Blues by Derek and the Dominoes.
Consonance is a similar device except it’s the internal or ending consonant sounds that are repeated.
“A stroke of luck” and “first and last” are examples of consonance.
In songwriting, consonance is probably most cleverly used in rap as in:
“Zealots” by Fugees
Rap rejects my tape deck, ejects projectile
Whether Jew or Gentile, I rank top percentile
Many styles, more powerful than gamma rays
My grammar pays, like Carlos Santana plays -(Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Pras)
Assonance is the repetition of vowels or vowel sounds. An example of this is found in Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee":
“And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride.”
“Zealots” as seen above is also full of assonance.
Check out these examples of alliteration, consonance and assonance in song lyrics, and see if you can identify them:
“Time” by Pink Floyd
Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking - (David Gilmour/Nick Mason/Roger Waters/Richard Wright)
“I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel
A winter's day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island - (Paul Simon)
“How You Remind Me” by Nickelback
It’s not like you to say sorry
I was waiting on a different story
This time I’m mistaken
For handing you a heart worth breaking - (Chad Kroeger)
Did you pick up on them? Pretty interesting-sounding stuff, isn’t it?
I think it’s a great idea to incorporate some of these tools into your songwriting, but be careful. Overdo it and risk your song being branded as a novelty song, unless of course, that’s what you’re aiming for.
If used sparingly when writing a song, they can make a line of lyric jump out at you and demand to be remembered.