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Rhyming Is More Than Just Per-Verse
By Bill Pere - 06/18/2013 - 11:20 PM EDT

What do the following songs have in common (besides being hits...)?   Mrs Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter (Herman's Hermits), Day Tripper (The Beatles), WOLD (Harry Chapin),   At the End of the Day  (H. Kretzmer, from Les Miserables),  The Yard Went on Forever (Jim Webb/Richard Harris) ,  Something About You (Level 42),  Magic (Farrar/Lynne from Xanadu)

Answer: They all have memorable cross-verse rhyme.  Tight song construction is like building a house--you need to provide reinforcement in each of the three dimensions -- height, width , and depth,  to achieve something solid and long lasting.   In a song,  we usually think of rhymes as being points at the ends of lines that help us remember and anticipate lyrics.  These rhyme points can be arranged in various patterns which we call a rhyme scheme,  and the general guideline is to keep a consistent pattern from verse to verse.

Mary Had a Little lamb    ................. (a)
A little toast, little jam     .................(a)
Ice cream soda topped with fizz   ......(b)
Oh how sick our Mary is... ................. (b)

This rhyme scheme is aabb .  Subsequent verses which maintain that pattern will be easier for a listener to process, allowing the lyrical content to have greater impact.   The chorus can (and perhaps should) have a different pattern to help give it distinct identity.

Rhyme is not limited to the ends of lines.  Another  common type of rhyme is one which is internal to a line,
for example (from Harry Chapin's "Mercenaries"):

It's a slow motion night in the hot city light              ......... (a-a)
Past time when the good folks are snoring in bed      ........  (b)
On a loose jointed cruise to recolor your blues          ........  (c-c)
With illegal notions alive, alive in your head              ........   (b) 
In addition to the end-line rhymes, there is also a horizontal pull in lines 1 and 3
from the night/light and cruise/blues combinations which give the lyrics additional structural integrity.   The pattern is consistently maintained through the many verses of the song.

Of course, very intricate patterns can be constructed from these two techniques, and as long as they're consistent from verse to verse,  the lyric is structurally tight.

Do you hear it there in the children's laughter          .......................... (a-b)
Their kites dance in the air and avoid the wire rafter, so  free  ......... (a - b - c )
The old man hears the sound, today he's kind of smilin'     ............. (d - e)
The squirrels gather 'round and watch his shadow sway silen t-ly ...(d -  e - c )
Like the twisting of an old cypress  tree   ...................................................(c)

(A PDF Song Map analyzing the sonic structure of the complete lyric is here)

Or this example:

The alarm clock says it's dawn.........................................(a)
I creak up out of bed and put my work boots on,  .......(a)
For another day of working in that same old place......(b)
I slip out but she doesn't hear,.........................................(c)
She's not heard for eighteen years,.................................(c)
And the only thing that's different from yester day.....(d)
Is another touch of  gray and wrinkle on my face........(d - b)

(A PDF Song Map analyzing the sonic structure of the complete lyric is here)

But this covers only two dimensions -- within a line and from line to line.  How about the third dimension -- across verses?  This is a less used technique, mostly because it's difficult and it imposes more restrictions on the structure of each verse.  But when it can be used, it certainly makes for memorable lines.  Quite simply, this  is a rhyme scheme where a word in a line of  one verse rhymes with the corresponding word in the corresponding line of the next verse.   

Mrs Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter  (Herman's Hermits)

(verse 1, line 1):   Mrs. Brown you've got a lovely daughter...
(verse 2, line 1):   She wants to return those things I bought her

Day Tripper  (The Beatles)

(verse 2, line 1):   She's a big teaser, she took me half the way there
(verse 3, line 1):   Tried to please her, she only did one night stands...

WOLD  (Harry Chapin)

(intro,  line 1 ):      Hello, honey, it's me...
(outro, line 1 ):      Okay, honey, I see...

At the End of the Day    (from Les Miserables)

(verse 1, line 1) :   At the end of the day you're another day older....
(verse 2, line 1):   At the end of the day you're another day colder...

The Yard Went on Forever    (Jimmy Webb)

(verse 1, line 1) :    There were houses, there  were hoses, there were sprinklers on the lawn...
(verse 2, line 1):    There were blouses with print roses, checkered shirts and white levis ...

Magic  (Farrar/Lynne,  from Xanadu)

(verse 1, line 1)    Come take my hand, you should know me
(verse 2, line 1):   From where I stand, you are home free

Providing consistent rhyme schemes in three dimensions is certainly a great way to make your lyrics tight, memorable, and a cut above the crowd --  but  remember a golden rule of good songwriting -- never  use a word just for the sake of making a rhyme or maintaining a pattern.  First and foremost is that it must be the right word to convey your meaning.  If you can also make it rhyme in three dimensions,  so much the better, but don't start out by making that your goal.  Often times, three dimensional rhymes come about as you're crafting and re-writing and you find that  a particular word just happens to fit naturally.  Then, having established a pattern, you can try to craft -- but not force--  the rest of the lines to maintain the pattern.  If successful, your rhymes will have crossed the line and be totally per-verse.

For additional song maps, see the supplemental material at  as well as Chapter 22 of the book.

Bill Pere was named one of the "Top 50 Innovators, Groundbreakers and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry"  by Music Connection Magazine.  With more than 30 years in the music business, as a recording artist, Grammy-award winning songwriter, performer, and educator  Bill is well known  for his superbly crafted  lyrics, with lasting impact. 

  Copyright 2013  Bill Pere.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may not be reproduced in any way without permission of the author.  For  workshops,  consultation, performances,  or other songwriter services,  contact Bill via his web sites, at

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