Rhyme Scheme- Become A Better Songwriter

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This will be part one in a series of articles about rhyming.
definition of rhyme

Rhyme Scheme Is Easy!

Hey there! Welcome back! Today, we are going to talk about rhyme scheme. This will be part one in a series of articles about rhyming. Going forward, we will also talk about rhyme structure, balance, overall strategies, and more! You know, I’ll bet you didn’t think there was so much involved in rhyming! So stay tuned!

The term rhyme scheme refers to the way rhymes are laid out within the structure of a song. The arrangement is notated using letters of the alphabet, typically.

For example,

fire/sun/higher/done

would be notated as “a b a b”, with “a” representing the “ire” sound, and “b” representing the “un” sound.

fire/higher/sun/done would be “a a b b”.

unrhymed lines are represented with an “x”, so

back/fire/learn/higher would be “x a x a”.

Simple, right?

Common Rhyme Schemes

Here are a handful of common rhyme schemes:

  • a b a b
  • a a b b
  • x a x a
  • a b a b b
  • a b c a b c
  • a b c a b c c

An Exercise To Try

Here is a great exercise you can do to quickly get a feel for common, and popular rhyme schemes. Just pick a handful of songs from your favorite artists, and notate the way they use rhyme in their songs. Let’s do one!

Cover Me Up – Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell, in my opinion, is one of the very best songwriters in America. His lyrics are visceral, powerful, and always have a compelling narrative. So, let’s look at the first verse and chorus from one of his most popular songs, “Cover Me Up“:

Verse

A heart on the run
Keeps a hand on the gun
It can’t trust anyone
I was so sure

What I needed was more
Tried to shoot out the sun
In days when we raged,

We flew off the page
Such damage was done
But I made it through,

’cause somebody knew
I was meant for someone

So there are actually a couple ways you could structure this verse, but to me it reads in short phrases like above. In this case, the rhyme scheme is –

a a a – b b a – c c a – d d a

Very cool, and interesting scheme! A bit unusual, even. He also manages to use a bunch of perfect rhyme and still have it sound natural, and conversational, without leaning into cliches. And that’s not easy! We will talk about why in another article. Moving on, let’s look at the chorus.

Chorus

So girl, leave your boots by the bed, we ain’t leavin’ this room
‘Til someone needs medical help, or the magnolias bloom
It’s cold in this house and I ain’t goin’ out to chop wood
So cover me up and know you’re enough, to use me for good

After the unique way he frames the verse, he comes to the chorus and hits us with a clean, simple, and powerful “a a b b” scheme! Some folk might split hairs, and say “wood” and “good” are actually distant rhymes for “room” and “bloom”, and they are not necessarily wrong (yet another future article!). Again, he uses perfect rhyme here in a very brilliant way.

Get On It

So, there you have it… rhyme scheme is a simple concept to grasp, but not necessarily an easy one to use well! Once again, studying the greats will lead us to ideas and inspiration for our own songwriting. I can’t stress it enough!

Happy writing!

Matt Singleton

Matt Singleton

Father, husband, writer, musician, record producer. Student of the warrior spirit. Founder of SMTM Records.

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