Rhyme (How Do You?)

author: benjmc date: 07/31/2003 category: songwriting
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I'm just writing another lesson/article for you now, all about rhyme. Why? Because I believe rhyme is probably the most abused and misused tool in the world of lyric writing. And I intend to correct this; at least for some up and coming writers. Throughout this lesson, my main intention is to teach you how to use rhyme so that it is beneficial to your work, like enhancing flow and other reasons, (like grounding weirdness; giving off that story-like effect; verse linkage etc). Soon I'll give some examples and using those as my starting point, I'll start to explain what you can do with rhyme, and what you should never do with rhyme. (That may make this sound like it is a "Do/Don't" article, but it will never be as clear cut as that). Before you read my thoughts on whether the rhyming was used to better the work, and how it did so, it would be advantageous for you to read the examples and form some opinions of your own. Example #1. This example of, what I believe to be, cringe-inducing rhyming is the first verse of the Pink Floyd classic, 'Time'.
"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting someone or something to show you the way"
So what's wrong with it? Well, my main problem with it is all the similar syllable sounds. Really, though, it makes me cringe when I hear it. (Which is really a shame, as the melody is wondrous). Look closely at the lyrics and you'll see it says "way" twice and "waste" once. And these words sound almost identical when sung. Now, you probably think I'm making a big deal out of nothing, but one of the things that you really should avoid in songs is ending two or more lines with the same word. I sincerely mean that, because the majority of the time a repeated word will sound idiotic. It's as if the person who was writing the lyrics couldn't think up an additional word that rhymed with - in this case - 'way'. Another thing to be wary of - unless you're lyrical ability is highly advanced - is conventional rhyme schemes and rhyming couplets. You should look at the rhyme pattern here; it's a ridiculous AABA. It doesn't even sound abstract, it just sounds like the lyric writer (Roger Waters) was stoned or drunk or having an out mind experience when he wrote it. To be fair though, it's not all bad and therefore I shouldn't be so negative. I have found positive things to comment on in these lyrics such as that third line. Look at it. From a lyrical perspective, it's a truly sublime piece of writing. Mainly because of the observation - which appears to be comparing us to animals - and also because of the 3 internal rhymes. (Internal rhyme - two or more rhyming words contained within one line. ) Another positive aspect of this particular verse is that the rhyming couplet is almost cliched, and therefore fits the topic perfectly. (I'm not being sarcastic). It seems like the rhyming couplet - due to the simplicity of it - was intended to give off that 'dull' feel that is talked about within the verse, and even if that is not the case, it's an interesting technique that you could take into account when working on your own writing. Following on? I said earlier that you should be wary of rhyming couplets until your lyrical ability has advanced to a supreme level. Well now, I'm going to give you an example of simple, standard rhyming couplets used perfectly. Example #2. This example is from a Jeff Buckley song, entitled "Eternal Life".
"Eternal life is now on my trail, 
Got my red glitter coffin man, I just need one last nail
While all these ugly gentlemen play out their foolish games
There's a flame on the rise that screams my name"
What is there to say about it? Well, for starters, that first rhyming couplet is unusual and very original, and then the second one is more conventional - possibly even cliched. But the thing is, if you surround conventional rhymes with stylish - and ultimately cool - writing, then your lyrics will appeal to everyone. They'll be simultaneously accessible and abstract. That's the thing: you can ground lyrical weirdness with standard rhyming couplets. For this next technique, I was thinking about what I haven't shown you to do with rhyme. And here's something that I like to call extended rhyming. The basic idea, (or my understanding of it), is more or less rhyming over more than one verse. For example, ABCD-ABCD, or ABBC-DEEC. You should be able to grasp this concept a bit more fully, whenever I give a proper example. So here we go? Example #3. The example below is the first two verses of Damien Rice's, "Older Chests". I have divided it into lines in the most obvious way I could see which would illustrate the point I'm trying to make.
"Older chests
Reveal themselves
Like a crack in the wall
Start off small
But grow in time

And we all seem
To need the help 
Of someone else to mend that shelf 
With too many books
Read me your favourite line"
Let me try and find a rhyme scheme in the way I have laid out the lyrics. ABCCD-EBBFD seems to cover it. Obviously the form of these lyrics is highly unconventional, so it was hard to illustrate fully what I mean. The one thing you should notice is how - in the second verse - he goes back to rhyming words that he used in the first verse. Hmm?maybe you don't find that as interesting as I do, but still, be aware of the technique. It's one more piece of knowledge to add to your armoury, which will increase the flow of your work immensely. For example, you may have already noted that it's a good technique to use if you want to closely link your verses together, or perhaps you want to give off a story like feel - which is caused due to the repetition of the rhymes. Closing Comments. I think now you should have learnt how to manipulate rhyme to your advantage, and to the benefit of your lyrics. So all I have to say is experiment. The only things that can really teach you how to write are practice and analysis. I learnt through practice, but I'm still learning. You'll never finish learning, but your skills will always develop if you practice and analyse on a regular basis. Find the time and be dedicated. Remember that when you are using rhyme, you should do it in a creative way. Use rhyme wisely. Do not force it. Finally, do not forget to pick up a pen, and try out your newfound knowledge. You have been reading another of my lessons, and all I hope is that it has inspired some more creativity on your behalf. Hopefully you will be enthused to develop your skills to an even greater extent, and show the world of UG how prolific and talented a writer can be whenever there is dedication and an insatiable desire to improve.
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