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Designing With Rhyme as Done by Sting and John Mayer
By Anthony Ceseri - 06/21/2013 - 10:20 PM EDT

There are many different ways to use rhyme as a strategy to enhance what your lyrics mean. In this article, I want to show you how you can use rhyme to group similar ideas within your lyrics.
 
Let’s back up for a second. Above all else, rhyme is a sonic connector. That’s what lets us use it as a tool in songwriting. For example, the word “mounds” is very closely related to the word “pounds” because they both have the same vowel sound, and the same consonant sound after that vowel sound. The only thing that’s different is the consonant sound before the vowel. That makes them perfect rhymes. It connects them to each other when we hear one and then the other.
 
As you probably know, an AABB rhyme scheme means the first two lines of lyric (the ‘A’ lines) rhyme with each other, while the second two lines (the ‘B’ lines) also rhyme with each other, on a different rhyme. On the other hand, in an xAxA rhyme scheme, the first and third lines (the ‘x’ lines) don’t rhyme, while the second and fourth lines (the ‘A’ lines) do.
 
You probably don’t normally give these rhyme schemes too much thought when you use each one, but the rhyme scheme you select can make a different in your how your song is presented.
 
With that in mind, it makes sense to use rhyming to link similar ideas in your lyrics. Let’s look at a couple of examples, so you can see what I mean.


Using Rhyme for One Idea

First let’s look at part of a lyric using an xAxA rhyme scheme from the song “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” by the Police:
 
 

I resolved to call her up (x)
A thousand times a day (A)
Ask her if she’ll marry me (x)
In some old fashioned way (A)
 
 
This xAxA rhyme scheme makes sense for this lyric.
 
“Why?” you ask?
 
Because the rhyme scheme doesn’t close itself after until the last line (side note – an ABAB rhyme scheme works very similarly to an xAxA rhyme scheme). You don’t feel resolution in an xAxA rhyme scheme until you hear that the last line rhymes with the second.
 
Go back and read those four lines. You’ll see that you don’t feel resolution until you read the fourth line. If you stop at the third, you’ll have a burning desire to keep going until you hit the last line. As a result, all four lines work together to make these lyrics feel like one big section.
 
It’s for that reason that this rhyme scheme works for these four lines of lyric. These four lines of lyric are all contributing to one main idea. The idea is the lead character’s calling up a girl. All four lines contribute to that notion. If you deleted the first two lines and just read the last two, the lyric wouldn’t make much sense.


Using Rhyme for Two Ideas

Hold that thought while we look at a chunk of lyric with an AABB rhyme scheme. These are the opening lines to “Heartbreak Warfare” by John Mayer:
 
 
Lightning strike (A)
Inside my chest to keep me up at night (A)
Dream of ways (B)
To make you understand my pain (B)
 
 
I should start by noting that the rhymes John Mayer uses here are not perfect rhymes, they’re imperfect rhymes. But ignore that for now. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
 
The first thing I want you to take note of is how you can stop after the first two lines and still feel fulfilled. Check it out:
 
 
Lightning strike (A)
Inside my chest to keep me up at night (A)
 
 
Do you see that? You can stop reading, because with a rhyme you don’t feel the need to move forward. The completion of the rhyme allows you to take a break. Compare that to the first two lines of the Police’s song:
 
 
I resolved to call her up (x)
A thousand times a day (A)
 
 
There’s no rhyme there, so we want to keep rolling forward. We eventually end up feeling resolution with the fourth line, but we just can’t stop at two. Do you notice that?
 
So how does this relate back to the actual lyrics? Well… It allows you to store separate lyrical thoughts in different rhymes. In John Mayer’s lyrics, these two lines and rhymes are essentially both part of one thought:
 
 
Lightning strike (A)
Inside my chest to keep me up at night (A)
 
 
They talk about lighting striking in his chest. Then the next two lines compose a separate thought:
 
 
Dream of ways (B)
To make you understand my pain (B)
 
 
All four lines are related, but the first two can easily stand on their own when separated from the last two, and vice versa. Those two separate thoughts are “sectioned off” by using rhyme. The first two lines (and the first thought) are grouped together with the ‘A’ rhyme. When that rhyme is completed, we can stop and move on to a separate thought with the next two lines that share a ‘B’ rhyme.
 
That doesn’t hold true with the Police’s lyrics:
 
 
I resolved to call her up (x)
A thousand times a day (A)
Ask her if she’ll marry me (x)
In some old fashioned way (A)
 
 
All four of these lines are part of the same thought, so it makes sense that the rhyme doesn’t close until the last line. The intent of the rhyme scheme matches the lyrical idea in both of these cases.


Imperfect Rhymes

Let’s go back to John Mayer’s use of imperfect rhymes. This is what we had:
 
 
Lightning strike (A)
Inside my chest to keep me up at night (A)
Dream of ways (B)
To make you understand my pain (B)
 
 
The rhymes used here are imperfect, because the vowel sounds are the same, but the consonants that happen after those vowel sounds are different. You can see that when he rhymes “strike” with “night” and also when he rhymes “pain” with “ways.” The vowels are enough to hold the sounds together, but it’s not as rigid as it would have been had perfect rhymes been used. Perfect rhymes have the same consonant sounds after the vowel sounds, like we saw in “mounds” and “pounds” from earlier in this article.
 
Imperfect rhymes make sense for this lyric. This lyric is about pain, so why provide a complete and resolved feeling with an accompanying resolved, perfect rhyme? Perfect rhymes comfort you. But by using an imperfect rhyme, you’re left with a little bit of longing, which helps tie into what the lyrics are saying.
 
While what we saw earlier in this article was a way to tie the rhyme scheme to what your words mean, what you’re seeing here is how to tie the rhyme type to what your words mean.


Bigger Picture

Going back to rhymes schemes, you can also think about this concept in bigger pictures too. Let’s say you had lyrics that had eight lines with the following rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD. In that case it would make sense to have the first four lines talk about one idea, while the next four could discusses a different, although related idea.
 
On the other hand, maybe you’ll have your eight lines rhyme like this: AABB CCDD. In that case, you may be using four smaller ideas within those same eight lines.
 
Have fun with grouping your thoughts the way you saw here. I think you’ll find it can be an effective strategy for lumping similar thoughts together as you develop your story in your lyrics.

For a lot more useful songwriting information, grab my free eBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/



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