Great rhyme schemes are one of those things in music that seem effortless and natural but achieving them takes a lot of sweat and hard graft. Every songwriter knows the frustration of wrestling a rhyme while of trying to get their message across with the most impact and the right words. In this article, we’re looking at how to write lyrics using poem rhyme schemes, making this task a little easier for beginner songwriters.
What are rhyme schemes?
A rhyme scheme is the structure and rhythm of your lyrics, connecting words and music seamlessly. With a good rhyme scheme, your lyrics will develop and emphasise the structure of a song, bring attention to the central ideas you’re trying to communicate, and create the tension and storytelling aspect that every great song needs. It makes your song more memorable and easier to sing along to, connecting the music, lyrics, and audience through a powerful sense of emotion.
How do rhyme schemes help songwriters?
Rhymes are very important to songwriters, and will help you:
- Organise the flow of your lyrics
- Control the pace
- Define the end of sections
- Create and control closure/resolution with rhyme
- Create prosody (using language to create acoustic and rhymical effect)
How does a rhyme scheme work?
This system creates a pattern of rhyming words at the end of each section or phrase, and is often called a poem rhyme scheme. This is mapped out using alphabetical order. So, the first end word and the next end word it rhymes with are A, the second end word and the next word that rhymes with it is B, and so forth. Not every end word needs to rhyme with another, and these are usually labelled X.
If you have a four-line chorus where the first- and second-lines rhyme with one another and the third- and fourth-lines rhyme with one another, then you have an AABB chorus. And if you have one where only the second- and fourth-lines rhyme, you’d have an XAXA chorus.
The easiest way to get to know rhyming schemes is to listen to your favourite music. You’ll start to recognise where the rhymes lie and the kind of impact this has on the listener.
Types of rhyme schemes
One general rule is that whatever rhyme scheme is used in the first verse, it’s repeated at consistent intervals through the song. This has the effect of making a song feel like a unified, coherent piece of work, the same way that repeating chords for a chorus makes a piece of music feel complete.
There are so many different types of rhyme schemes, and some are more popular for different musical genres or bands than others. The most dominant are four-line and six-line rhyme schemes, and these can be:
These have the same vowels and ending consonants, and while they doo create the strongest and most distinct rhymes, songwriters have to be careful of how they’re used, as the sound can become too repetitive or nursery-rhyme-like. An example of a perfect rhyme would be “fine”, “mine”, “sign”. Perfect rhymes are used where you want to create a strong statement, certainty, or resolution.
Here, the rhyming words contain vowels or consonants from the same families of plosives, fricatives, and nasals. This sounds a little complex, but all it really means is that how we say a word is similar to another word, even though they don’t share the same consonants or vowels. It’s a looser rhyme and can add interest to the lyrics without being obvious. A good example of a family rhyme is “shame” and “grain”. Family rhyme is used similarly to perfect rhyme, but it’s usually a gentler effect.
An additive rhyme is where the vowel sounds are the same, but extra letters/consonant sounds have been added on to the end of the second rhyming word. Something like “year” and “feared”. Additive rhymes are weaker or softer, and open lyrics to a lot more creativity.
This is like an additive rhyme, except that the consonant sounds have been removed. “Plane” and “rain” are an example of this. Subtractive rhyme creates a sense of instability or change.
This is when you rhyme the vowel sounds and not the consonants. For example, “tide” and “life”. This creates a sense of connection between the two worlds but keeps things open-ended. It’s good for questioning, doubt, and uncertainty because it’s a more chaotic rhyme to track.
These are rhymes with different vowels but similar consonants. They’re the weakest rhyme and give you the most writing flexibility. Good examples of consonance rhymes are “pink” and “kite”, “bond” and “ground”, and “sent” and “taint”.
The most popular rhyme schemes
So, let’s look at the most popular rhyme schemes for song writing.
Simple and punchy, the AABB rhyme scheme adds an element of predictability, making it very popular in pop, rap, hip hop, and rock music. In the song Girls by the Beastie Boys, you can see this rhyme scheme clearly:
I like the way that they walk (A)
And it’s chilly to hear them talk (A)
And I can always make them smile (B)
From White Castle to the Nile (B)
This rhyme scheme has a similar high-impact effect, linking lines of the song and the concepts they carry throughout the lyrics. In Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel, you can see this rhyme scheme at work:
Are you going to Scarborough Fair? (A)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (B)
Remember me to one who lives there (A)
For once she was a true love of mine (B)
Known as a monorhyme because all the last words rhyme, this is often used to create a build-up of tension in a song. While it’s difficult to do without losing the edge, a good monorhyme has a lot of impact, especially in hip hop and rap. In Disclosure by Latch and featuring Sam Smith, there’s clear monorhyme:
You lift my heart up when the rest of me is down (A)
You, you enchant me even when you’re not around (A)
If there are boundaries, I will try to knock them down (A)
I’m latching on, babe, now I know what I have found(A)
Also called an envelope rhyme, the second- and third-lines rhyme and the rhyme of the first and fourth lines enclose the lyrics. A good example of this is Maps by Maroon 5:
I miss the taste of a sweeter life (A)
I miss the conversation (B)
I’m searching for a song tonight (B)
I’m changing all the stations (A)
This rhyming scheme is more unpredictable, which gives you a lot more freedom as a songwriter. A good example of XAXA lyrics can be found in Johnny Cash’s Hurt:
I hurt myself today (X)
To see if I still feel (A)
I focus on the pain (X)
The only thing that’s real (A)
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