Songwriting

#SongwritingHack 1.05 – “Special Holiday Hack: Musical Lyrics & The Art Of Alliteration”

by Clay Mills
Dec 6, 2020

Hey, it’s Clay with another episode of Songwriting Hacks, where we break the code on popular songs and give you tools that you can use for your own songwriting. Today, we’re studying four popular Christmas songs: Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Winter Wonderland, and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.

So what do these four songs have in common?

We know they’re great classic Christmas songs that have been around for a long time, but they all employ a technique called alliteration – a stylistic device in which a number of words, having the first same consonant sound, occur close together in a series.

So if we break down these four Christmas songs, the first one, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, has two C consonants right in a row. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, we have a series of R sounds right in a row. Walking in a Winter Wonderland, you have three W sounds right in a row. Now you’re getting the picture. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, you have the L sounds. This is a very powerful tool, and I really believe that alliteration used by songwriters is often overlooked.

Poets and authors have used it for centuries because when you’re writing a poem, you don’t have the music component to make your words musical. So you have to rely on the words themselves and come up with ways to make those words musical, to make your words memorable, so people can memorize your poems.

It’s a very, very powerful tool, but often songwriters don’t look to do this. So I just wanted to show you the difference. It would be and take a couple of these songs if they didn’t use alliteration and these classics, would it be.

What would they sound like without alliteration?

Santa Claus is Coming to Town – What if it was “Santa Claus is Riding to Town”? Doesn’t seem as memorable. Without the alliteration of the C’s, there’s almost a rhythm to the words. That’s what we’re looking for.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – what if it was Gandalf the Red Nosed Mule Deer? It just doesn’t have the same roll-off-your-tongue effect.

Now, when we sit down to write, we want to incorporate things in our songs like alliteration, but we don’t want to force it. So my advice to you would be to practice separately outside of your writing. And I do this all the time.

I’ll take a line from a song. And I’ll go, how can I write some alliteration into that line? So that way, when I sit down to actually write a song, I’ve got that tool mastered and it’ll come up subconsciously; I don’t have to think about it.

Put It Into Practice: Exercise

Let’s try out some alliteration using this sentence as an example:

There was a time not long ago our innocent hearts ran wild.

Take that lyric line, and change it to make it more memorable, and more musical, through alliteration. Good luck and write on!

Clay Mills

Clay Mills

Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.

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