Using Rhyme to Enhance Your Lyrics

Have you ever gone through a phase in your songwriting where you decided you just weren’t going to rhyme anymore? I think most songwriters have. But that could just be because you didn’t have a good strategy for rhyming. If you think of rhyming as strategy to enhance the mood of your song, and use it in conjunction with a few other tools which we’ll examine here, it can greatly benefit your songs.

Rhyming Basics

A lot of times, we fall into that old trap where we only write lyrics to three different rhyme schemes. It seems to be an intuitive songwriting thing that we naturally do if we don't know any better. If writing a four line lyric, we either write an xAxA scheme, an ABAB scheme, or an AAAA scheme (where an x indicates a line with no rhyme and an A is a line with a rhyme):

Some simplistic examples of that would be as follows:

xAxA - only the second and fourth lines rhyme

"The first line has no rhyme" (x)

"And the second one's a treat" (A)

"While the third line matches nothing" (x)

"The fourth one feels complete" (A)

ABAB - the second and fourth lines rhyme with each other and the first and third lines rhyme with each other

"The first line found a friend" (A)

"The second one's still fun" (B)

"The third line's not the end" (A)

"But at the fourth we know we're done" (B)

AAAA - all four lines rhyme

"If you want a rhyme to shine" (A)

"Repeat it here and it's a sign" (A)

"That it's also in this line" (A)

"And by the last you're feelin' fine" (A)

These are all very deep lyrics, I know. But bear with me, I'm making a point. As you can see in the three examples above, they all feel very complete. After each of these three rhyme schemes are done, it's very clear that the section is over.

So if you're a songwriter who's constantly writing to these three rhyme schemes, you're going to eventually get tired of them for a couple of reasons. One, is because you're using the same three schemes over and over again. That in itself can get tiring.

The second reason, is because these rhyme schemes feel so complete and balanced. If you're writing a song that has lyrics or a mood that is NOT happy and balanced, applying these rhyme schemes just isn't going to feel right for your song. But instead of getting frustrated and never rhyming again, try using rhyme to your advantage.

 

Break the Rules

One option, is to use a completely different, less balanced rhyme scheme. It may not be as intuitive to you, but one way to create a rhyme scheme like that is to modify one of the above rhyme schemes to fit your lyrical idea.

The time to do that would be when your lyric and mood of your song call for it. You want all aspects of your song to be in alignment. So if you have a happy, feel good song with upbeat lyrics - by all means, use one of the three rhyme schemes above.

But if the mood of your song is dark and so are your lyrics, what's above just won't satisfy your song. "So, what should I do then?" you may be asking.

Well, let's check a great example of out what Evanescence did in their song "My Immortal."

 

My Immortal

We'll look at the chorus of this song, as it has the most effective use of rhyme throughout the lyric. It modifies the AAAA rhyme scheme and turns it into an AAAx rhyme scheme. Check it out...

 

Chorus

"When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears" (A)

"When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears" (A)

"And I held your hand through all of these years" (A)

"But you still have all of me" (x)

The rhyme scheme here makes perfect sense for the lyric. This song is about someone she loved now being gone. When we get to this chorus, lead singer Amy Lee is recapping the positive things she did in the first three lines, so it makes sense that they all rhyme perfectly with each other. Check out those three lines on their own...

"When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears" (A)

"When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears" (A)

"And I held your hand through all of these years" (A)

Then what happens next?

"But you still have all of me" (x)

Oh! There's the kicker! "But you STILL have all of me." Even though he's gone, she's still completely consumed with him. And that's all highlighted with a line that REFUSES to rhyme with the other three lines.

So in other words, these four lines could be saying this:

"I helped you

I helped you

I helped you

You're gone"

That's why it makes sense the last one behaves differently. Because it's SAYING something different.

 

Line Length & Number of Lines

Okay, I might have lied earlier. I said the rhyme scheme for this song was AAAx. The truth is there's a little bit more going on here than I led on. The rhyme scheme is actually AAAxx. While the chorus reads as four lines on paper, it's actually sung as five lines.

It plays out in the song like this:

"When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears" (A)

"When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears" (A)

"And I held your hand through all of these years[q/] (A)

"But you still have" (x)

"all of me" (x)

Check it out at about 0:50 into the song. You can check it out on YouTube, here:

Do you hear it? Now, why does it matter that it's actually five lines? It's because we talked about the line "But you still have all of me" throwing the whole chorus off balance because it doesn't rhyme. This is true. It does. But there are two other things that can make a section feel complete, or not. They are 1. the number of lines, and 2. the length of the lines.

Don't believe me? Fine. Let's check back in with our original brilliant examples.

 

xAxA

"The first line has no rhyme" (x)

"And the second one's a treat" (A)

"While the third line matches nothing" (x)

"The fourth one feels complete" (A)

 

ABAB

"The first line found a friend" (A)

"The second one's still fun" (B)

"The third line's not the end" (A)

"But at the fourth we know we're done" (B)

 

AAAA

"If you want a rhyme to shine" (A)

"Repeat it here and it's a sign" (A)

"That it's also in this line" (A)

"And by the last you're feelin' fine" (A)

In all three of these sections, we have an even number of lines, with roughly the same line length in each section. Those two things combined with our standard rhyme schemes make these sections feel very balanced.

An odd number of lines with changing line lengths make things feel less complete. Kind of like how our lead singer is feeling by the end of the fifth line... less complete. Check it out again.

"When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears" (A)

"When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears" (A)

"And I held your hand through all of these years" (A)

"But you still have" (x)

"all of me" (x)

See how those three tools throw the section off balance? The length of the lines have been shortened in the last two lines to leave us wanting more. And an extra line was thrown in, just to totally throw the section off whack.

And if you STILL don't believe me... (I don't know why I'm constantly doubting your faith in me), imagine if THESE were the lyrics:

"When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears" (A)

"When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears" (A)

"And I held your hand through all of these years" (A)

"Now I close my eyes, but you still appear"(A)

Ahhh!!... doesn't that feel better? A nice balanced, symmetrical section! The last line still means the same thing as it did in the actual version (kind of). But in this case, the balance of the section doesn't match the lyrical intent. Or the mood of the song. The section feels happy, while the words and mood of the song suggest feeling incomplete.

 

Experiment

You can see how changing your rhyme scheme can change what your listeners were expecting. And if you take it even further by altering your line lengths and your number of lines, you can really send their expectations on a roller coaster ride. But only use tools like this when it goes hand in hand with the message you're trying to get across in your songs. Otherwise, you may be doing your listeners a disservice. But most importantly, experiment and have fun with it. See what works best for your songs.

Discuss this article in our Music Forum.

About Anthony Ceseri

Anthony CeseriFor a free report from Anthony with a lot more songwriting tips please visit:

successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/how-to-write-a-song/

Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi's Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry.

Realizing this kind of information isn't readily available to most songwriters, Anthony founded www.SuccessForYourSongs.com as a way to funnel the very best advice to songwriters and performers all around the world.

Anthony's writings appear as examples in the book Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises For Finding Your Voice by Pat Pattison, an acclaimed lyric writing professor at Berklee College of Music.

For more information, please visit successforyoursongs.com

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Music is not math. It's science. You keep mixing the stuff up until it blows up on you, or it becomes this incredible potion.”
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