The main purpose of a rhyme in a lyric is simple…it gives the lyric a certain predictability that makes it memorable. In the oldest form of songwriting, folk, the idea was to relay a story that would be passed on from person to person. If I was to take a wild guess, it would be that someone came up with the idea of rhyming in order to remember the lines. Or, it could have been one of those “happy accidents” that make the whole process so much fun 🙂
Either way, we all know how crucial rhyming can be to songwriting. In fact, one thing I notice most with newer songwriters is that they spend more time on the rhyme than they do on the reason 🙂 Does that make sense? Let’s look at it this way: when you have a word at the end of a line that you need to rhyme, do you think about the meaning of the song and the story you’re telling, or do you grab the rhyming dictionary and start looking for a word to rhyme it with? AHAH!!! Caught ya!
We all begin by using those predictable rhymes…moon/June, love/above, etc. The reason we resort to the most common rhymes is because they are what we’ve heard many times before, and because we simply don’t know enough words! In your first 50 lyrics, you are likely only repeating what you’ve heard rather than coming up with your own lyrical “voice”. This is why your lyrics feel so “cheesy”…they are OLD, they have been DONE BEFORE. In order to help you break out of that bad habit, let’s look at rhymes a little more closely.
RHYMING WORDS…First we’ll tackle the actual rhyming process. In songwriting, there are a number of ways to rhyme. The first and most common, is called a “perfect rhyme” at the end of a line. “Love” and “above” are perfect rhymes because they end with the same combination of letters in the last syllable. Some songwriters fervently avoid perfect rhymes, thinking that they are too easy and predictable, but there is nothing wrong with it as long as it is a new one! Ha! Well, you might have a hard time finding a “new” rhyme, but if you want to use one, look for uncommon words to rhyme. Also, consider using “double rhymes” where two syllables in a word rhyme (e.g. prediction, conviction), but don’t over-do it! The other less-taken path would be to rhyme something other than the last syllable (eg. carrot, caring).
The next kind of rhyme is an imperfect or near-rhyme. What other word could you use to rhyme with love that doesn’t end in “ove”, but has the same kind of sound? How about “enough” or “rough”? Because the “f” sound in “ough” is very close to the “ove” sound in “love”, it maintains the sound of a rhyme without being perfect. This is my favourite kind of rhyme 🙂
RHYMING SCHEMES: Sometimes it is where you place the rhyme that makes the difference. We all know the predictable structure of rhyming every first and third, or second and fourth line in a lyric:
There is a man who looks like Truman Capote
He wears a slanted smile and a wide-brimmed hat
A little pigeon-toed, a lot eccentric
He gets a kick out of what he’s smiling at
(“Simple Life” Copyright © 2000 I. Woloshen SOCAN)
Here, the 2nd and 4th lines rhyme fairly simply with the words “hat” and “at”. Some people like to rhyme BOTH the 1st and 3rd and the 2nd and 4th line. To me, unless the lines are each longer, this can sometimes be overkill. However, you be the judge!
Another rhyme scheme might be in a song with a slightly different structure, say 5 lines in a verse instead of 4. You have lots of options here, but sometimes the line length really comes into play here. Think of a limerick structure for a moment:
There one was a man from Peru(A),
Who dreamed of eating his shoe(A),
He awoke with a fright (B),
In the middle of the night (B),
And found that his dream had come true! (A)
So, mapping out the rhyme scheme, we’ve got A, A, B, B, A. The 1st, 2nd and 5th lines rhyme and the 3rd and 4th do as well. The 3rd and 4th lines also have the same shorter length and (almost) number of syllables and same rhythm or meter, which is what makes the rhyming feel natural here. The rhyme scheme and the meter of a limerick is what makes it stand out.
Another way of rhyming is something called an “internal rhyme”. This is when there is a rhyme within a line of a lyric, not necessarily at the end of it. Here’s a sample:
There, where the rubber meets the road
You’ve got to make your decision
Before the trail goes cold
Cause the dust will settle
And the rust invade
If you sit too still, let it go to waste
(“Green Light” Copyright © 2000 I. Woloshen SOCAN)
The words “dust” and “rust” fall inside their respective lines, rather than on the end. Playing around with internal rhymes is fun…especially when you have one of those “happy accidents”. Boy, I’ve gotta write an article just about that! But back to the previous verse again…if you look at the overall rhyme scheme, the 1st and 3rd lines rhyme and the 5th and 6th. And the end rhymes are all imperfect…”road” and “cold”, “invade” and “waste”.
A third rhyme is something I’ve discovered in my own writing and have only rarely seen it in other lyrics…I call it a “Ghost Rhyme”, and so far I haven’t heard another term for it. This definitely is one of those “accidents” I was referring to. Take this example:
There is a woman, must be in her 90’s
She sells her pumpkins every Hallowe’en
She’s all bent over with the weight of something
And every year her crops the best I’ve seen
(“Simple Life” Copyright © 2000 I. Woloshen SOCAN)
When I wrote this verse, it wasn’t until I sang it that I noticed the “ghost rhyme”. Just try speaking the verse to yourself and tell me where you get a sense of a rhyme that doesn’t really exist!! If you comment below, I’ll tell you if you’re right!
But before you go, REMEMBER to NEVER sacrifice your content for a rhyme…the story will ALWAYS be more important than how well you rhyme a verse!!
Here’s a little rhyme widget, just to get you going 🙂