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Start With Something That's True

Songwriter Glossary

Updated 3/7/17

A songwriter glossary of common terms you’ll run across as you get feedback about your songs.

Figurative Language & Literary Devices
Allusion

An expression or phrase used to call something to mind without expressly mentioning it. A form of figurative language, the effectiveness is contingent on the listener knowing the story or event being referenced.

For example, “finding the truth was his white whale” is a clear reference to Moby Dick. Or, “their life was a Garden of Eden” is a biblical reference and easily understood, while “their life was Asbury Park in summer” is probably a more difficult allusion for a large number of listener’s to grasp.

Repetition

There are several rhetorical devices used in songwriting. The most common include: (1) Anaphora – repeating a phrase at the beginning of a line (2) Epistrophe – repeating a phrase at the end of a line, (3) Antanaclasis -repetition of a word or phrase to effect a different meaning, and (4) Epizeuxis – repetition of a single word.

Imagery
Is the representation of one thing by another thing using vivid or 
“figurative language” to represent objects, actions, or ideas. Imagery
 uses four types of “figurative language”: simile, metaphor, personification, and allusion.

Metaphor
A metaphor is a type of “figurative language” used in imagery. Unlike a simile, a metaphor isn’t a direct comparison using “like” or
“as,” it’s an implied connection between two things.

The two things are
 usually very different, with an understanding of the first being 
necessary to give meaning to the thing being defined. A metaphor is the stronger of the two types of comparative devices (simile and metaphor). (Examples)

Personification
The endowment of inanimate objects or abstract concepts 
with animate or living qualities. Caution is recommended to not over-endow an object or concept with living qualities. (Personification In Songs)

It can quickly turn comic if not careful. E.g. correctly done: the highway don’t care if you’re all alone  E.g., comic: the highway sign smiled at me as a passed

Simile
A type of “figurative language” used in imagery. It directly compares two things by using the words “like” or “as”. Similes tend to acknowledge the limitations of the comparison, and protect the author against outrageous or unfair comparisons. A simile is the weaker of the two types of comparative devices (simile and metaphor). (Examples)

Symbolism

The use of something (symbol) to signify ideas and qualities by giving them meanings that are different from their literal sense.

Usually it’s an object representing another to give it an entirely different meaning, which adds depth and a larger significance to the term. For example, depending on the context, a “chain” can mean a “union” as well as “imprisonment.”

It can also be actions. For example a smile can be good, as in how a friend greets you, or bad, as in how arch villain Snidely Whiplash appreciates his latest train-rail tie up of Nell Fenwick.

So, symbolic meaning of an object or an action is understood by when, where and how it is used – or the context.

Meter & Feet/Measures
Amphibrach
A word or phrase composed of an unstressed syllable ( – ) followed by a stressed
syllable ( / ) followed by an unstressed syllable ( – ).

Sounded out as: da DUM da and written as ” –  / – ” over the appropriate syllables of
the word. E.g., be-LIEV-ing or i LOVE it

Anapestic Foot
Used to determine the meter of a song, a word or phrase composed of two unstressed syllables ( – ) followed by a stressed
syllable ( / ).

Sounded out as: da da DUM and written as ” – –  / ” over the appropriate syllables of
the word. E.g., com-pre-HEND or ma-king SENSE

Dactylic Foot
Used to determine the meter of a song, a word or phrase composed of a stressed
syllables ( / ) followed by two unstressed syllables ( – ).

Sounded out as: DUM da da and written as ” / – – ” over the appropriate syllables of
the word. E.g., BLUE-ber-ry or YOU’RE okay

Foot
A unit of poetic meter composed of stressed and unstressed syllables (iamb, dactyl, anapest, spondee). Each type is considered a foot, with a line being composed of a combination of types, and identified as the number of feet.

TIP: You’ll be pretty close if you count the syllables and divide by two, which will help with creating a consistent melody. E.g., They’re growing houses in the fields between the towns ( / – , / -, / -, – – / , – /, – / ) is a six foot line.

Iambic Foot
Used to determine the meter of a song, a word or phrase composed of an unstressed syllable ( – ) followed by a stressed syllable ( / ).

Sounded out as: da DUM and written as ” –  / ” over the appropriate syllables of the word. E.g., good-BY or for GOOD

Meter
Rhythmic measurement of a line in a song using feet (iamb, trochee, anapest, dactyl, spondee, amphibrach).

Spondee
A word or phrase composed of two a stressed
syllables ( / ).

Sounded out as: DUM DUM and written as ” /  / ” over the appropriate syllables of
the word. Comprises a poetic foot. E.g., DOWN-TOWN or I CAN

Trochee
A word or phrase composed of a stressed syllable ( / ) followed by a unstressed
syllable ( – ).

Sounded out as: DUM da and written as ” /  – ” over the appropriate syllables of
the word when documenting on the page. Comprises a poetic foot. E.g., MO-ney or HEAL-thy

Point Of View
Direct Address
Uses the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘your’ and requires the speaker to have a direct conversation with the second person (you) via the song itself. This POV usually results in a song recounting or reflecting on highly emotional moments of an interaction or life event with the focus being on the speaker telling the second person something important.

Detail is often less pronounced in this type of song, with the goal being to create emotional empathy within the listener for the speaker. (Example)

First Person
Uses the pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘we’. The speaker tells the story from their own perspective, recanting details specific to what they know directly from seeing, hearing, listening or feeling. (Example)

Omniscient (aka Third Person)
Uses the pronouns ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘she’, ‘they’, ‘them’ or ‘it’. The speaker tells a story about someone or something else, with
access to all detail and information regardless of their participation
in it – they do not have to be a witness – they are omniscient and know
all facts. (Example)

Point of View
The perspective from which the speaker tells the story, (1) first person, (2) second person, or (3) third person/omniscient. The point of view gives the speaker access to certain types of information, for example if the POV is first person, the speaker can only know what they see, feel and hear, not what someone else is thinking or feeling. POV is a writing tool that allows a story to take on different perspectives.

Second Person
Uses the pronouns ‘you’ or ‘your’. It is one step removed from a situation, and risks sounding judgmental if not handled in a way that shows compassion for the subject. Direct address is a form of second person narrative. (Example)

Third Person (aka Omniscient)
uses the pronouns ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘she’, ‘they’, ‘them’ or ‘it’. The speaker tells a story about someone or something else, with access to all detail and information regardless of their participation in it – they do not have to be a witness – they are omniscient and know all facts. (Example)

Rhyme & Prosody
Alliteration
The repetition of vowel sounds in a line.

Assonance
The repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words.

Couplet
A pair of rhymed lines in a song which may or may not constitute a full verse, chorus or bridge.

Enjambment
A run-on line in a song where grammatical and logical sense carries over from one line to the next, i.e., across a couplet.

Melisma
When the melody uses two or more notes for a single syllable. E.g., to-DAAAAYYYY a la Faith Hill style.

Quatrain
Four rhymed lines in a song constituting a defined section within the song structure, i.e., verse, chorus or bridge.

Rhyme Pattern
Is the flow and linking of your chosen rhymes. A rhyme pattern can help in connecting verses, or tie your chorus and bridge to bring a stronger impact to the change, etc. Patterns are usually denoted with capital letters, beginning with “A” to reflect like rhymes throughout the song. (Rhyme Patterns)

Rhyme Scheme
Rhyme scheme helps determine pace, connect relevant lines to build cohesive meaning within a song element, and can link elements of the song to drive audible separations between verses, choruses, pre-choruses and bridges. (Rhyme Families: Your Secret Weapon)

Sestet
Six rhymed lines in a song constituting a defined section within the song structure, i.e., verse, chorus or bridge.

Tercet
Three rhymed lines in a song constituting a defined section within the song structure, i.e., verse, chorus or bridge.

Song Structure
Bridge
Contrasts in content with the verse and the chorus usually giving a new perspective on the story. Is the ‘A-HA!’ moment in the song.  (What’s A Bridge For?)

Also called the “middle eight,” it is usually a couplet or tercet and rarely contains the title or hook. While melodically different from the rest of the song, its melody will lead back to the verse or chorus. (Overview of all song parts)

Chorus
A core component of a song, it summarizes the main idea of the lyric and is the emotional high point of the song. Contains the title or hook in the first or last line and is the same melodically each time it occurs. (What’s A Song Chorus For?)

Hook
The focused statement of the central idea used as a device to create a memorable core idea to your song. It is most often your title. (What’s A Hook?)

Channel or Pre-Chorus
Sits just 
before the chorus in a song and is used to build intensity into the
upcoming chorus by first slowing down at the beginning of the song, then
ramping back up as it approaches the chorus. (What’s A Pre-Chrous?)

Song Structure
A song’s basic shape or organization using verses, choruses, bridges and pre-choruses. (Song Parts, Song Structure Made Easy, Song Elements Overview)

Verse
A major component of a song, the verse’s primary role is to convey the information of the song and set up, or lead to, the chorus, the bridge, another verse, or a title/hook line.

Each verse should have different information in order to move the story forward, and be the same melodically.   (What’s A Song Verse For?)

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