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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Playing by Ear: the sounds of poetry

Have you or someone you know ever heard a song for the first time then played the melody on a piano or other instrument without any sheet music. That ability to “play by ear” usually denotes musical giftedness, which occurs among poets too. 

Often, musically inclined poets play with melodies they’ve heard in school, which leads them to a head-start in poetry as they skillfully write rhythmic, rhyming verses to the amazement of teachers, friends, and family. Unfortunately, those “gifted” ones might never try to develop their “poetic ear,” while those who lack that natural ability think they can’t write poetry at all. Wrong and wrong!

If you’re a “natural” at writing poems, these links to prior posts can help you expand your options as you write and revise:

Unlocking clockwork rhyme

Enjambment and rhyme placement tone down jangling rhymes  

Using alliteration for sound echoes and for fun

Revising for Sound and Sense

For the “naturally gifted” poet and also those who don’t think they are (or ever will be!) a poet, learn to play by ear as you read aloud poems by other poets or listen to recordings such as these favorites:

Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work, CD

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work from Tennyson to Plath (Book and 3Audio CDs)

Poetry On Record: 98 Poets ReadTheir Work (1888-2006)

You can find recordings by contemporary poets too, such as this one by Mary Oliver, whose words coaxed me back to writing poetry after a gap of many years:

At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver reads Mary Oliver

If you prefer listening to poems read on the Internet, check out these sites:

Poetry Archive

poets.org | Academy of American Poets

Children's Poetry Archive - Listen to the world's best children's poetry read out loud.

Listen | Poetry Foundation

And, for a variety of poetry forms and techniques to play with, listen to, experiment with, and enjoy, the user-friendly paperback (and former course) 
A Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry can help you to develop an ear for poetry and/or fine-tune your natural ability to play by ear.


©2021, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, all genres



  1. Such great insight for poets and helpful links! You give much from your passion Mary.😀❤️🌹🙏