Assonance, Alliteration & Payoff Lines

Since lyrics are intended to be sung, their sound is sometimes just as important as their meaning. Assonance and Alliteration are just fancy names for specific ways to use the sound of words to add interest to your lyrics.

Assonance is the technique of incorporating the same sounds on the stressed vowels of two or more words to create added interest aurally. For example:

You say no way
Hold on or I’m gone
This time you’ll find you’re mine

Alliteration is the use of two or more consonants that have the same sound. Using this tool can help to make a lyric catchier, more memorable and pleasing to the ear. For example:

I’m falling forever
Now I’ll never know
The way we were

Pam Tillis had a huge hit with “Maybe It Was Memphis.” Without the use of alliteration (Maybe-Memphis) the title would not have been nearly as effective. “Maybe It Was Cleveland” just doesn’t have the same impact. When alliteration and assonance are used effectively, they sound so natural and organic to the lyric that they are barely noticed. These tools can add interest to your lyrics when used sparingly, but overusing them can distract the listener from your message. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the meaning must always be the top priority.

Write one full line of lyrics that incorporates each of the words below. In each instance, use the tool of assonance or alliteration to add interest to the line–while still maintaining a natural, conversational meaning.

Assonance Example: Strong–I’m too strong to go on like this.


Alliteration Example: Help–Help me, I’m Hurting.


Big Pay-Off Lines
The function of pay-off lines is to provide a sense of satisfaction and completion for the listener. The Pay-Off, most often found at the end of the chorus, is the line that ties the song together. It provides the emotional punch, or surprise, and adds impact to the lines that preceed it.For example:


I wanna dance with somebody
I wanna feel the heat with somebody
I wanna dance with somebody
With somebody who loves me.

Less Effective:

I wanna dance with somebody
I wanna feel the heat with somebody
I wanna dance with somebody
Because I like the music.

In the example of the less effective way to complete the chorus, the listener is left with a sense of . . . so what? In Whitney Houston’s hit, the pay-off line at the end of the chorus raises the lyric to a whole new level by bringing in an additional element to the lyric. Is it especially effective because of the double-entendre of the word somebody.

When Houston sings “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” in the first three lines, it means she wants to dance, and anybody will do as a partner. But the inclusion of the pay-off line, “with somebody who loves me” brings more power to the lyric.

By Jason Blume

Article reprinted with permission from TAXI: The Independent A&R Vehicle that connects unsigned artists, bands and songwriters with major record labels, publishers, Film & TV music supervisors.