Writing lyrics for a song and writing poetry may seem very similar. But truthfully, how similar are they? Can a songwriter write poems? Or is it possible for a poet to collaborate with other songwriters?
Here’s a summary of the similarities and differences between songwriting and poetry writing:
- They both use figures of speech.
- They both use themes, stories, and imagery.
- They both benefit from originality.
- They both rely on s strong understanding of language.
|Written to be sung with music.||Written to be read or spoken.|
|Typically have a chorus or refrain.||Typically does not have a chorus or refrain.|
|Follows a set tempo.||Can be read at any speed.|
|Length must fit a song.||Can be written at any length.|
Ready for a more in-depth look at the points above? Let’s go!
Similarities between songwriting and poetry writing
Figures of speech
Writing songs and poetry both involve using figures of speech. Typically figures of speech are classified into 5 major categories:
- Figures of resemblance or relationship (e.g. simile, metaphor, kenning, conceit, parallelism, personification, metonymy, synecdoche, euphemism, etc.)
- Figures of emphasis or understatement (e.g. hyperbole, litotes, rhetorical question, antithesis, climax, bathos, paradox, oxymoron, irony, etc.)
- Figures of sound (e.g. alliteration, repetition, anaphora, onomatopoeia, etc.)
- Verbal games and gymnastics (e.g. pun, anagram, etc.)
- Errors (e.g. malapropism, periphrasis, spoonerism, etc.)
The use of figures of speech goes beyond the literal meanings of the words to give the audience new insights. This makes the writing interesting, so both songwriting and poetry writing benefit from it.
Here are some examples of the more commonly found figures of speech:
- I have a million things on my mind (Hyperbole)
- Polar beats vote at the North Poll (Pun)
- real fantasy (Oxymoron)
- He is sly like a fox (Simile)
- She is a star in the sky (Metaphor)
- The moon is smiling (Personification)
As you can see, there are a lot of figures of speech, and you can find many of them are used in both songwriting and poetry.
Themes, stories, and imagery
Both song lyrics and poems are built on a theme, story, or some sort of imagery, describing scenery or place. This is because it is much easier to draw in the audience using stories and themes. A song or poem without some sort of setting or story would be extremely hard to understand, and therefore the message may not come across correctly.
Both songs and poems excel with originality and creativity. They are art forms after all. Sure, there are fundamental structures and theories that should be used to maximize the quality of the final outcome, but sometimes breaking the rules or introducing new elements will turn good work into great work.
Famous songs and poems more often than not have some kind of element that is new to the audience. Those are the works that people enjoy and will share with more people. So it doesn’t matter if you’re writing songs or poems, try to add some originality into your works, and you’ll be surprised with the result!
Strong understanding of language
Although technically anyone can start writing song lyrics or poems, to have a high quality work, one must have a strong understanding of language.
One example is the figures of speech mentioned earlier in this article. If you do not have a strong grasp of language, it would be extremely difficult to use different kinds of figures of speech in your song or poem. That may lead to a product that is dull and boring.
Therefore, it is highly recommended to read many books and literature before venturing into writing either song lyrics or poems. Even if you’re writing modern pop songs, which may seem to use simple, plain English on the surface, conveying the exact message with limited, simple words is actually a very difficult task.
Differences between songwriting and poetry writing
Written to be sung or spoken?
The biggest between songs and poems is that songs are written with the intention of being sung, while poems are written to be read or spoken. This may sound like a very slight difference, but it is not. It changes the whole mentality and direction of the works.
Songwriting is associated with music, melody, and harmony specifically. The words are written with a melody or rhythm in mind.
Does it typically have a chorus or refrain?
Songs typically have a chorus or refrain, while poems do not. As mentioned above, songs are written to be sung, so by having a chorus section and repeating it, the listeners can more easily remember the song. Note that every time the chorus repeats itself, it is played with almost the exact same music, melody, and lyrics.
Poems are written to be read or spoken, so it doesn’t really help to have a repeating chorus. If it does, it may actually hinder the flow of the poem.
Does it have a set speed?
When we’re talking about modern songs, they typically have a set tempo. This means that throughout the whole song, the tempo does not change, or have minimal change between different sections.
This is very different from poems, as they can be read at any speed, even variable speed. Pauses and gaps can be introduced by the reader to enhance the reading experience of a poem.
In that sense, when writing songs, the songwriter has to take into account the constant speed. The emphasis of the words should land on the beat. While on the other hand when writing poems, the poet can be more expressive and flexible in structuring each sentence.
Does it have a set length?
Modern songs are around 3 and 4 minutes in length. Naturally, with a chosen tempo, the song’s length is already set. This means that the number of sections should fit into the length of the song.
For example, a song has the following structure:
Given the structure above, the songwriter has to allocate space for each section, so that the overall length is around 3 to 4 minutes. In other words, if evenly allocated, and the total song length is 4 minutes, each section should be 40 seconds. And if the tempo is 60 beats per minute, each section should have exactly 40 beats. Working in a 4/4 time signature gives us 8 bars. So for each section, the words written should be sung in a way that fills 8 bars. No more, no less.
When taking the number of words that can be sung comfortably by a singer into account, the word count for each phrase of the song is also predetermined in a way. That means that the songwriter has to have the ability to tell the same story by utilizing a set number of slots for the words.
Writing poems do not need to have a set length. Poems usually involve a lot of enjambment, much more than a song. Poets emphasize “sayability”, hence the length for each sentence can be very long, and stretch across multiple lines. Also, a poem has no length restrictions nor minimum length. So you will find the overall length of poems varies widely, from a few lines to poems that have multiple pages. As long as the message of the poem is being conveyed in the way which the poet intended, and is readable, there isn’t much issue when we’re talking about the length of the poem.