Songwriting basics and tips 5: Popular Rhyme Patterns

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

Getting in shape …

In theory, you can make a song using any rhyme pattern at all – just so long as you make sure all your verses have their rhymes in the same places in each verse.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan,  for example, is VERY loosely rhymed with an opening A A, then a bunch of what are called X- or non- rhymes, then the hookline, which, in this case, is the song title. But, even if it’s loose in itself, every verse follows that model!

If you have reasonable grounds for believing you’re a wordsmith as amazing as the early Bobby D., then read no further – just listen to that little voice in your head and you’ll be fine.

We lesser mortals generally use the “5% inspiration, 95% perspiration” method – at least to start with, and hope that, once we’ve honed our skills, lyrics will fall into place a little more easily as we develop.

But to get on that path, let’s get deep down and familiar with the shapes that give our songs structure.

Common Patterns …

We’ll start with an easy one:X A X A where we’re using to represent lines that don’t rhyme

  • Why do you cry
    In the still of the night
    After peace is declared
    And there’s no need to fight?

 

Verses are usually a bit longer than that, so let’s double up the structure:

  •  Why do you cry
    In the still of the nightcouple
    After peace is declared
    And there’s no need to fight?

    Is it just that it’s happened

    So often before
    And you know that this battle
    Does not end the war?

 

But now we have a verse with two questions, so shouldn’t we answer them or post a conclusion before moving on?

Let’s add another block of  X A X A to resolve that:

  •  Why do you cry
    In the still of the night
    After peace is declared
    And there’s no need to fight?
    cab
    Is it just that it’s happened
    So often before
    And you know that this battle
    Does not end the war?

    So while he still sleeps

    You get up and pack
    Get a cab to the station
    And never look back

That’s what we might call a very stable lyric in that it follows a tight structure all the way through. But that in itself can lead to monotony – which is where a chorus comes in.

Many indy-type songs sound pretty boring to me because they don’t use this useful device for changing the verse pattern.

Of course, you don’t have to change the pattern for the chorus, it’s just a lot more interesting to do it that way.

If you’ve put together a reasonably satisfying verse, but it doesn’t include a strong hookline, then you can improve the memorability of your song by writing a chorus.

You can also up the interest factor by using a different rhyme pattern than the one you used in the verse.

Often, by just picking a pattern, and then making yourself write to that pattern, your creativity will be stimulated by the challenge.

So, I’m going to challenge myself, here goes:

I’m going to use an A B A B C C structure.

  •  You still wish for the dreamangry
    Of the boy you once loved
    But the man he became
    When the curtains were closed
    Is the reason you’re out flyin’ free
    And that’s all the reason you need

And here’s the final structure of the song:

  • Why do you cry
    In the still of the night
    After peace is declared
    And there’s no need to fight?
    Is it just that it’s happened
    So often before
    And you know that this battle
    Does not end the war?

    So while he still sleeps
    You get up and pack
    Get a cab to the station
    And never look back

    You still wish for the dream

    Of the boy you once loved
    But the man he became
    When the curtains were closed
    Is the reason you’re out flyin’ free
    And that’s all the reason you need

………………………………………………….

What I would usually do at this point would be to look at the clock.clock
If it’s still a long time before bedtime, I just fight the song to a finish.

But, if it’s getting late and I’m tired, I know that at least I have the entire shape of the song established, what the theme is, and I also usually have an idea of a melody and chords.

With that lot all written down and/or recorded, it’s pretty easy later on to pick up where I left off.

………………………………………………….

Please note that none of this needs to be final. It can all be changed and edited later – the important thing is that all the main points of the song have been roughed out.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come back and modified the tune of a song to make it sound more original.

To start with though, for the purposes of having a basic model of the song that can be perfected later, any hokey old tune will do.

The lyric above, for no reason other than its storyline, seems to me to best suit a country song, and that’s the kind of tune I have drifting through my head right now.

And the title/hooklineThat’s All the Reason You Need pretty much fits the bill!

………………………………………………….

We started the chorus in that last example with an A B A B  structure, so let’s play around a bit with that.

This time, I think I’ll have a go at a rock lyric. These generally deal with the rougher side of life, so I’m going to try writing a biker song!

To start with, I’ll say something about the bike – this is where you ask yourself “What can I find out about what goes into making a bike?” Google it! I did!:

  • 400 pounds of shining steelbike
    78 Triumph on a long straight road
    She’s my lady in red, and, Lord, how I feel
    When I open up the throttle and just let her go

Now for something about the rider:

  • Outlaw heart, and outlaw mind
    Livin’ for the road and a life that’s free
    I don’t mean you no harm, but you’re not my kind
    So get outta my way, just leave me be

And a chorus! Once more, let’s change the pattern.
OK! I’m going for an A A A X  pattern:

  • Dirt, dust, wind blowin’ in my face
    No-one on the road, but it’s still a race
    Could be California, could be any place
    I’m laughin’ as I’m ridin’ on my Red Rockin’ Bonneville

What do you think of Red Rockin’ Bonneville as the title? winker

………………………………………………….

X A X A and A B A B  are two of the most used patterns in popular music. Running close behind them is A A A X, usually with the hookline  on X, so let’s play around with that for a bit.

It’s often used in traditional songs, so I’ll do a mock Robin Hood ballad.

First stanza – set the scene:robin

  • In Sherwood Forest, bold Robin did lie
    With a maid, and some mead, and a venison pie
    While in his dark castle the sheriff did cry
    That Robin must die on the morrow

 

Second stanza – the Sheriff’s strategy!

  • For a traitorous knave had betrayed Robin’s care
    And said the bold outlaw would come to the fair
    As some unknown archer to win the prize there
    So Robin might die on the morrow

 

Well, it looks bad for Robin, but I’m sure you know the rest of the story, and this is but a demonstration of how a particular pattern might be used – so, that’s all folks!

………………………………………………….

Bits and Pieces and Putting Them Together …

In no particular order, here are a few more shapes that crop up reasonably often:

A A B B

A X A A

A A A A (that’s a hard one to make interesting, and also rapidly depletes your rhyme bank!)

A X X A 

The forms we’ve looked at here are all based on 4-line units, but there’s nothing to stop you combining or extending them. Above, for example, I added a C C  to an A B A B structure.

You could make your verse 2 x A A B B  then tag on an A B A B or even just a line of  as in the Robin Hood ditty. Once you get used to working with the basic units, experiment!

………………………………………………….

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

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