By John Braheny

To make rhyme work as a memory tool, you must be consistent. Once you establish a rhyme scheme for your verses, it's best to use the same pattern in all the verses. That same verse pattern in the choruses and bridge, however, could get monotonous, so it's better to establish one rhyme scheme for the verse, one for the chorus, and yet another for the bridge. You can introduce a subtle element of surprise this way without affecting the predictability of the song. Another way to surprise the listener is to either precipitate or delay the rhyme. It can be used with any rhyme scheme and the rhyme can occur at any of the underlined positions in the last line:

Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta
Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta TUM
Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta
Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta TUM Ta TUM

Here are the most common rhyme schemes:

1. Rhyming all four lines. Usually too predictable. This gets old fast.

a more
a score
a door
a floor

2. Rhyming second and fourth lines. Has flexibility and the element of predictability without the boredom. Allows more freedom to develop content without the restriction of rhyming each line.

a trust
b guess
c hurt
b mess

3. Rhyming first and second lines, third and fourth lines. Referred to as rhymed couplets. Be careful. Can get predictable and restrictive.

a luck
a stuck
b brave
b save

4. Rhyming first, third, and fourth lines.

a able
b still
a cable
a stable

5. Rhyming first and third, second and fourth lines.

a making
b good
a taking
b could

6. Rhyming first, second, and third PLUS last lines adjoining verses. This works best in up-tempo songs where verses are close enough together in time for listener to remember the (c) rhymes.

a when
a then
a men
c know
b stand
b band
b land
c show

There are other variations. These forms are often doubled, for instance. Given that one of their functions is to help us remember, rhymes in any consistent position in the line may work. In the English language, though, there is an expectation that the primary rhymes come at the ends of the lines. Because they're in a powerful position it becomes extra important that they enhance, or at least don't distract, the listener from the mood and meaning of the song.

RAP

The best rappers are rhyme masters and the rhyme schemes I list above, though they apply to rap too, aren't essential for it. Content and rhyme hold almost equal importance in the style, since it's essentially a spoken genre. Holding a story thread while using as many inside rhymes and internal phrasing meters as possible IS the game and many of the conventions of pop, rock, and country writing don't apply.

RHYMING DICTIONARIES AND THESAURUSES

Some writers look at rhyming dictionaries as a crutch, as though it was cheating to use one. If you've been writing for any time at all, you probably know the most natural possibilities for rhyme. But when you're really stuck, it's always good to know that there's somewhere you can go quickly to make sure you have the best rhyme possible for the line. I've also run across rhymes in these sources that instigated a whole new thought pattern. The human mind has such wonderful facility for "connecting the dots" between seemingly unrelated images and words that anything you feed it can become an ingredient for something new.

A friend of mine once put a few hundred descriptive adjectives in his computer and just ran them through to fill in the blank in a line. The results were often comical, occasionally profound, and usually words that he would have had difficulty coming up with "off the top of his head." This is one of the things a good rhyming dictionary can do for you. And the more you use it, the more you develop a storehouse of rhyme possibilities in your mind.

All rhyming dictionaries contain thousands of words that you'd never use in a song. You'll also be able to come up with colloquialisms that aren't in the dictionaries and make up your own words, so don't let yourself get too attached. The Modern Rhyming Dictionary by pro lyricist Gene Lees and Clement Wood's The Complete Rhyming Dictionary are both good ones.

If you use a computer, there are very fast and efficient software rhyming dictionaries available. Just Google "songwriters rhyming dictionary."

When you're looking for a particular word and can only come up with a word that's somewhere in the neighborhood, you need a thesaurus. It will give you words or phrases that mean the same or almost the same thing (synonyms) or the opposite (antonyms) as well as words and phrases that are only remotely related. It incorporates slang and lists words by part of speech. Using a thesaurus is like a treasure hunt in which each new discovery can send you on yet another exciting journey. It's an indispensable tool. Roget's International is my favorite. Microsoft Word and other word processing programs also contain thesauruses.



This excerpt from John Braheny's book, (The Craft and Business of Songwriting, 2nd Edition) has been edited for length. It's available at Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. For info about John's critiquing and consulting services, go to www.johnbraheny.com.

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