Songwriting – Using Rhyme to Write Powerful Lyrics

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Rhyme can be a powerful tool to use in your songwriting, if used effectively. Let’s look at how we can use rhyme schemes to our advantage when writing a song.

When we hear common rhyme schemes, we typically know how they’re going to end. For example, an ABAB rhyme scheme might have lyrics that end with these words:

Fight (A)

Mistaken (B)

Might (A)

Awaken (B)

Once we hear the words at the end of the first three lines, we can be fairly certain that the fourth line will end with a word that rhymes with the word at the end of the second line. In the case of the example above, we can be certain that a rhyme with “mistaken” is coming. So if these were our lyrics:

Born to fight (A)

I’m not mistaken (A)

Filled with might (A)

I will awaken (A)

These are just nonsense lyrics to make my point. But do you notice how you anticipate the rhyme on the fourth line before it even happens? This idea hold true for other common rhyme schemes too. The xAxA rhyme scheme acts in the same way the ABAB rhyme scheme did above. Except instead of the first and third lines rhyming, they don’t But the expectation for the fourth line to rhyme with the second line still happens.

Let’s look at the AAAA rhyme scheme to see that the same thing happens here.

Born to fight (A)

Here tonight (A)

Filled with might (A)

You’re not right (A)

Once we hear that the third line rhymes with the first two, we expect the fourth to do the same.

In most aspects of lyric writing, there’s a time to stick with the expected standard, and a time to deviate from it. Usually it works out best to stick to the expected if your song has a more positive message. If the message is more negative, a lot of times deviating from the standard, to highlight your less-than-happy meaning can be an effective approach to lyric writing. Check this out:

Look what I’ve been through (A)

Across the world I’ve roamed (B)

Then I met you (A)

And now I know my home (B)

This section is about being complete, or happy. So it makes sense that that completeness is complemented with a fulfilling rhyme scheme. It makes the section feel familiar, and grounded, kind of like the “home” talked about in the lyrics.

Now let’s look at an example where steering away from the expected would make more sense.

Look all I’ve seen (A)

Across the world I’ve roamed (B)

Then you left me (A)

And now I’m feeling lost (x)

This was a modification to the ABAB rhyme scheme to be an ABAx rhyme scheme. By not rhyming on the fourth line, we didn’t give into the rhyme that was expected. You can see from this example, that makes sense pertaining to the lyrics since the last line reads “And now I’m feeling lost.” Just like the listener who was expecting a rhyme. It’s prosody. In addition, the lyrics are sad and longing. Not playing into the rhyme expectation gives us that “not fulfilled” feeling to also tie into the lyrics.

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