Learn about rhyme scheme in songwriting

It´s important to know which rhyme schemes you want to use, and how to use them.

Rhyme Time

Okay, if you’ve gotten to this point, you have your image system all set and you’ve got your first line written. Keep in mind, that first line may be changed around a little bit to fit with the music (shortened by a syllable or two, lengthened, etc.), but we’ll be talking about that in the next article.

For now, we want to come up with a rhyme scheme for your song and end up with a list of words that can provide strong line finishes, which is where you’ll find most strong rhymes. First, let’s talk about the scheme.

Finding Your Scheme

You probably already know a lot about rhyme schemes, especially if you’ve ever read any nursery rhymes. A scheme like this is essentially a way of saying which lines will rhyme with each other and is usually written out as a series of letters.

For example, a rhyme scheme ABAB would comprise of four lines with the first and third (the A’s) rhyming with each other, and the second and fourth (the B’s) rhyming with each other. One of the most common schemes is the ABCB. The second and fourth lines rhyme while the first and third do not.

Listen to a few of your favorite songs and write down the rhyme schemes so that you can see how the pattern is usually repeated throughout each verse.

Sometimes you’ll find that the chorus follows a similar rhyme scheme and sometimes has its own. Rhyme systems, as far as lyric writing is concerned, are rarely complicated. Read some poetry and you’ll find a huge variety of rhyme schemes, but lyrics generally stick to the two listed above.

The reason for this is that these two schemes follow a simple alternating pattern where there will always be a strong rhyme at least every two lines, if not every line. This helps the audience mentally keep track of your lyrics.

If you try a scheme that is overly complicated, you risk losing your audience. That is not to say that a song can’t be written with a complicated rhyme system, just be aware that it is harder to hold audience attention if you take that route.

Constructing Rhyming Verses

Okay, now that we’ve done a quick overview of rhyme schemes, we’re going to go about actually building your first verse. We’re going to assume that you already have your opening line written.

Also, a quick note: some songwriters frown on the use of rhyming dictionaries, claiming that the process of writing a song is a process of pure emotion and therefore reference books shouldn’t be used. I think that this is a ridiculous statement.

Think back to the great poets of history like Shakespeare, Tennyson, Byron. Do you think that they composed their greatest works by just sitting at a desk, writing it all down in one burst of emotion, and then saying, “Alright, the emotion has left so the poem must be done.” Nope, they worked hard to revise their works and make them as good as possible.

That doesn’t mean that a rhyming dictionary is required, but if you want to use one, then go ahead. Alright, getting back on track, we’ve got our first line and we’re going to use one of the rhyme schemes above (we’ll be using the ABAB as an example), so let’s get to work.

In the previous article, the opening line example of, “I eat my morning meal from your hand” was used and that will be used here as well.

First of all, get out a sheet of paper and write down a bunch of words that rhyme with the last word of the opening line. These words can be true rhymes (for “hand”: sand, band, land, etc.) or they can be near rhymes (for “hand”: can, man, lamb).

In lyrics, because the words are meant to be sung, the expression of the human voice can more than make up for the lack of a true rhyme. Try to come up with a line that relates to the first and ends with one of the rhyming words. Also, try to keep the line about the same length. Now, using that line, we need o find a bridge line that will come between in order to fit our rhyme scheme.

You’re not bound by any rhyming words right now, but you’ll probably want to keep the line about the same length as the other two you already have.

After you have that bridging line, the first B line in out rhyme scheme, write down a bunch of words that rhyme with the last word of that line. From those words, try to construct the final line of the rhyme scheme.

Here’s a written out version of the process using the example opening line of “I eat my morning meal from your hand.” Keep in mind the image of the caged bird that was being used to construct that opening line. Try to use your lines to reference the main image every now and then. You can’t do it all the time, but every few lines will help.

Example: Verse Construction

Rhyme Scheme: ABAB
I eat my morning meal from your hand

“Hand” rhymes (true and near): band, sand, can, man, fan, lamb

A3 (constructed using the above rhymes): And on my perch I will land

Now, the bridge line between A1 and A3. I’ve used the idea of a pet bird eating out of its owner’s hand and I’ve used the image of a perch in a cage for the third line. I need something that will bridge between these two lines and also help set up the last line, which I will use to drive home the feeling of feeling caged. Sometimes it may be helpful to come up with the last line, B4, before you come up with the second line, B2, so feel free to give that a try.

B2: The same as everyday

“Everyday” rhymes (true and near): say, play, away

B4: Cause I can’t fly away The full verse:

I eat my morning meal from your hand

the same as everyday

And on my perch I will land

Cause I can’t fly away

There you have it. These lines aren’t going to win me a Grammy, but it does illustrate a reliable method for constructing a verse or chorus. You may already have ideas and lines ready for your song before you reach this point. Just integrate them into this exercise and work around them. Remember, though, practice makes perfect and you won’t come up with a great verse the first time. Always refine and revise your work as you go along, and don’t be afraid to go back and change what you’ve already done if you come up with an idea further down the line.

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