Songwriting basics and tips 3: Rhyme – Part 1

‘I’ve tinkered at my bits of rhymes . . .’ 

Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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Okay, location, location, location … where do your rhymes go?

Traditional and popular songs have an internal rhyming pattern that they follow. It’s definitely not good practice to ignore this. However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked, in my capacity as a ‘song-doctor’ to look at works that follow no discernible rhyme structure.

So, here’s the rule:

If the end words of each line in V1 follow the pattern
A B C B
(“living”, “dying”, “talking”, “crying”),
then
V2 should follow the same general idea, e.g.
B C D C
(“flying”, “walking”, “laughing”, “talking”).

Seems simple, doesn’t it? But some people just don’t get it.

………………………………………………………

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes …

I think the best way to illustrate this is to edit a piece of modern poetry – which generally is pretty free-flowing by song lyric standards  – into a potential song lyric.

This is a rather good poem by Carol Ann Duffy about Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, to whom he famously left his 2nd-best bed.

Anne Hathaway – © Carol Ann Duffy 1999

The bed we loved in was a spinning world  Bed
of forests, castles, torchlight, cliff-tops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance;* his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love –
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

………………………………………………………

The Beat Goes On …

Now let’s make this into a lyric. But first, bearing in mind my last blog, we have to add a tightly repeated rhythm structure.

Edit pencil for poem to songTo do that, I’ll have to edit it, taking out words here, adding them there, until the poem has a steady internal beat. Once we start looking at the rhyme pattern, some of these alterations will, in their turn, be further changed. Here goes:

1)
The bed we loved, a spinning world
Of forests, castles, cliff-tops, seas
And in it he would dive for pearls.
Catch shooting stars which fell to earth
As

2)
My body now a softer rhyme
To his, now echo, assonance;*
Some nights I dreamed he’d written me
His touch, a verb that he’d make dance
Beneath his writer’s hands

3)
Romance and drama, laughter, love
played by touch, by scent, by taste,
In our best bed, our guests above
Lost in dull and dribbling dreams
Would snore their prose away.

4)
My love who lived and laughed with me
Lies still inside my widow’s head
But once he wrote my very dreams
And held me on that next best bed.

∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

I’ve more or less followed the order of ideas expressed in the original. It still lacks a full rhyme pattern, but a few rhymes have ‘accidentally’ arisen, so that makes things a bit easier.

IambIt now has a rhythm pattern, in fact, rather a classic one. It’s fallen into the units that Shakespeare liked to use: iambs. Those are rhythmic units that go dah-DUM, dah-DUM, dah-DUM etc.

 

Lines 1 – 4 in Parts 1 – 4  are in iambic tetrameter – that means 4 dah-DUMS.

Line 5 is in iambic trimeter – 3 dah-DUMS.

∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

Part 5 – which looks to me like a potential chorus – has 4 lines of iambic tetrameter: again, 4 dah-DUMS.
Conveniently, it also has a rhyme structure in which Lines 1 and 3 have near-rhymes ‘me’ and ‘dreams’ , and Lines 2 and 4 have perfect rhymes ‘head’ and ‘bed’.

………………………………………………………

The Shape I’m In … Shaping for song editing

The first verse, as I indicated, seems to have conveniently fallen into a rhyme structure that I propose to use for the remaining verses. My subconscious is obviously trying to get ahead of the game.

So, let’s examine the elements that make up that structure:

world’, in L1, has a near-rhyme in ‘pearls’ in L3, and a slightly weaker one in ‘earth’ in L4

All three have a ‘vowel+r’ sound. OK, that’s not exact rhyme, but it’s good enough for a song! We’ll look at the ideas behind near-rhymes and half-rhymes later, but, if you think a bit, I’m sure you’ll come up with some well-known songs that don’t use ‘perfect rhymes.’

Lines 2 and 5 rhyme ‘seas’ and ‘me’.

The rhyming pattern of V1 is therefore

A B A A B – 3 lines with one rhyming sound, 2 with another.

Now we have to make the other verses follow the same model.

∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

V2
My body now a softer rhyme
To his, now echo, assonance;
Some nights I dreamed he’d written me
His touch, a verb that he’d make dance
Beneath his writer’s hands

changes to

Some nights his touch would spark a dance
And he would move me to its time
Like pages from his writer’s hands
My body’s echo, assonance
Became his softer rhyme

You may have noticed that I’ve changed ‘make’ to ‘spark’. I just think ‘spark‘ sounds better in this song than ‘make‘ – it’s my songwriter’s intuition speaking. Not something I can readily explain!

The V2 rhyme pattern is C D C C D
again, 3 lines with one rhyming sound, 2 with another.

∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

V3
Romance and drama, laughter, love,
played by touch, by scent, by taste,
In our best bed, our guests above
Lost in dull and dribbling dreams
Would snore their prose away.

This already has rhymes in Lines 1 and 3love’ and ‘above
and near-rhymes in Lines 2 and 5taste’ and ‘away’ (both with the same ‘a’ sound).

So, the only line that really needs work is Line 4. It should rhyme, or near-rhyme with ‘love’ and ‘above’.

WikiRhymer (an occasionally useful site) gives the following as rhymes:

Dove

Glove

Shove

Of

Thereof

 

I’m going to go with ‘of’. I’m also getting the feeling that ‘snore‘  sounds fine in a poem, but not so good in a song. Since she’s contrasting her poetic lover with their not-so-interesting guests, and she’s referring to the past, I think I’ll try the following:

How dull the lives that they dreamt of

And I’ll change ‘would snore ’ to ‘and slept’ in the next line.

That gives us

Romance and drama, laughter, love,
Played by touch, by scent, by taste,
In our best bed, our guests above,
How dull the lives that they dreamt of
And slept their prose away.

The Rhyme pattern is E F E E F – again, 3 lines with one rhyming sound, 2 with another.

∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

Part 5 – the potential Chorus – is, as previously noted, ready for action with both rhythm and rhyme in place.

………………………………………………………

We Made It!

Let’s look at our lyric now:

Next Best Bed (Anne Hathaway) Poet

 The bed we loved, a spinning world
Of forests, castles, cliff-tops, seas
And in it he would dive for pearls.
Catch shooting stars which fell to earth
As kisses he gave me

My love who lived and laughed with me
Lies still inside my widow’s head
But once he wrote my very dreams
And held me on that next best bed.

Some nights his touch would spark a dance
And he would move me to its time
Like pages from his writer’s hands
My body’s echo, assonance
Became his softer rhyme

My love who lived and laughed with me
Lies still inside my widow’s head
But once he wrote my very dreams
And held me on that next best bed.

Romance and drama, laughter, love,
Played by touch, by scent, by taste,
In our best bed, our guests above,
How dull the lives that they dreamt of
And slept their prose away.

My love who lived and laughed with me
Lies still inside my widow’s head
But once he wrote my very dreams
And held me on that next best bed.

∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

First came rhythm.

Then that was shuffled and twisted and twirled into a rhyme pattern of
A B A A B for the verses, and C D C D for the Chorus.

Now we have a lyric that can have a melody composed for it to become a song. I may well do something about that if Carol Ann Duffy doesn’t mind!

………………………………………………………

*Assonance is the repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds within words, phrases, or sentences.
Example: “It beats, as it sweeps, as it cleans” (old Hoover vacuum cleaner slogan)

Part 2 – The Nature of Rhyme will follow soon. See you later!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

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