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Songwriting 101: Rhyme Scheme Made Easy
So You Want To Be A Songwriter
As an aspiring songwriter we must explore and utilize all the tools, methods, and techniques at our disposal in hopes of writing a great song. A catchy title, a good hook, and a sweet melody won't mean a thing if you fail to use them the right way. I have often discovered that by simply moving my rhyme scheme around I can create a new feel for my song. It may be that simple to turn that mediocre set of lyrics into glorious top 40 ones that you can be proud of.
I am sure everyone remembers to some extent the days of sitting in English class learning the different types of rhyme schemes used by great poets such as Poe and Shakespeare. These rhyme schemes actually play a major part in song writing. As a songwriter I feel we need to think like a poet. They try to find ways to make the words flow into each other and really that is what makes a good song, the flow of the music and lyrics. The musical shape of any song is dependant on how the words fit together to form comprehensive thoughts and tell the listener a story. Sometimes it is just a matter of moving a word or two, and sometimes we can swap out rhyme schemes and recreate a song.
Simple Rhyme Schemes
A lot of songwriters try to only stick with one or two rhyme schemes in their work. This creates a comfort zone. The most common scheme used is the AABB scheme. This basically means that the first and second line rhyme and the third and fourth rhyme. I will give you a quick example.
A-Got some change on my sink A- really makes me think B-Lots of pennies and dimes. B-memories of the good times
Be it these are horrid lyrics I am just simply using something to illustrate how the rhyme pattern works. The problem here is the words don't really flow and the lyrics kind of take on a Dr. Seuss type of motion to them. To really make AABB work the words have to have more depth and feel to them. Let me give you a better example. This is an excerpt from the Cavelier's hit song Last Kiss which was later redone by Pearl Jam.
A-Where oh where can my baby be. A- The Lord took her away from me. B-She's gone to heaven so I have to be good. B- So I can see my baby when I leave this world.
I am sure you are questioning the use of world as a rhyme for good but we will explore that concept in a later article. You can now see that AABB is a great working pattern but it requires depth and a bit more than just words to pull it off as successful lyrics. When you write your song you should always put in the right amount of detail. To little means you have a song full of voids but to much means you have a story or book and you lose the listener. This pattern is easy to use and I find that beginning song writers may want to work with it exclusively for their first few compositions.
ABAB Moving on Up.
The ABAB rhyme scheme is a little different from the AABB. This pattern means the first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth ones do as well. It is a much more versatile pattern for lyrics and it lends well to creating a steady flow and melody. Let's take our first example from above and format it to fit this rhyme scheme.
A- Got some change on my sink B-Lots of pennies and dimes. A- Really makes me think. B- Memories of good times.
Notice how now the lyrics seem to flow like a blues song would do. Just by changing the rhyme scheme we have put the lyrics into potential new genre categories. This is an excellent way to test the effective nature of your lyrics. The lyrics from our first example have not changed but merely taken a new shape. This new shape allows them to flow more freely and gives them a little more depth.
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The last simple rhyme scheme I want to throw at you is one that is mostly used in rap music but can be a driving force in metal, rock or even country if used right. This pattern is the AAAA pattern. In this layout all of the lines rhyme with the first line. Let me give you a quick example.
A-all my friends drive fancy cars. A- Sipping wine in their fancy bars. A- Living like the they were stars. A- from another planet like they came from mars
The flow is easy to generate in an AAAA rhyme scheme but it does present the challenge of finding tons of rhyming words to draw from. You can see how the pattern is a rap oriented one but we can actually utilize it for more of a country tone by adding a few internal rhymes. (rhymes within the structure)
A-my life's been a drag since you up and left. A- Caught in a snag like a hangman's belt. A- down on myself like theirs to much heft. A- coulda been better if I wasn't myself.
By adding words within the lines that rhyme with each other we create a new flow and change the direction the song is going in.
Music Makes The Song
Sometimes the best bet for writing a song is to look at how your rhyme scheme choice in relation to how your music flows. If your music flows with a minor feel to it you may want to avoid happier rhyme patterns like aabb and focus more on obscure patterns like abcabc. It is a matter of taste but a lot of times figuring how both lyrics and music flow can make a great song out of a normal one. You need to know how each word you write will fit into your musical puzzle.
Write it up!
These simple yet effective patterns can really drive a songwriter to be more creative and expressive with their writing. Lyrics are tricky and you never know what you have until you mess around and tweak it a bit from time to time. I hope that something I have written here was helpful and that you write that hit song you have been working on! Live long and jam!