How Rhyme Scheme Is Ruining Your Songs

WHy Rhyme Scheme Doesn't Matter

 Rhyme can make or break your song

I work really hard on my lyrics, I can have the catchiest hook, a slick chorus, a dynamic bridge, but if the lyrics don’t connect, I probably won’t end up recording or performing a song live.  For the longest time, I thought my lyrics had to rhyme, and once a rhyme scheme is established, I had to stick it out.

I was wrong.  Shocking, I know.  Thankfully, it happens once every couple years.

Sometimes rhyme scheme can actually ruin your song, such as when an awkward phrase, poor grammar, or a cliche’ lyric is forced in just to complete the rhyme scheme.  I see this all the time.  I consider it to be one of the Deadly Sins of Songwriting.  Take a look online at any songwriting forum and you’re bound to find tons of examples of what I call Master Yoda Syndrome.

I think of finishing a song to be like completing a crossword puzzle; sometimes you have the word in place that you think is the right answer so you write it down and leave it until you have more of the surrounding words to make sure. But then once the other sections get filled in, the word or words you thought were right end up being wrong.  Often times, those are the parts that end up getting edited out of a song and replaced with something better during the 2nd or 3rd draft.  Sometimes the parts that need to go are the words that will make your line rhyme perfectly, but the lines are meaningless throwaway lines. Fight the temptation to force the rhyme, and “murder your darlings.” In other words, kill off the lines that rhyme but don’t fit the song.

WHAT?! Don’t rhyme?

Yes.  Don’t do it, if it’s going to weaken the song… Watch the video and I’ll explain further:


Do you struggle with writing lyrics that say what you mean without sounding cliche or cheesy?


Proof That Rhyme Scheme Doesn’t Matter

Try to think of a popular or favorite song that rhymes in one verse and then stops rhyming or changes the rhyme scheme in the next verse. You probably can’t. Not because they don’t exist, but because no one even notices. You might notice a rhyme that is terrible, you might even notice when two lines ends in the same word, but  unless you’re writing down the lyrics or reading a lyric sheet and analyzing, you aren’t likely to notice.

That’s how little perfect rhyme schemes matter. There are countless great songs that abandon rhyme scheme part way through the song or go in and out of different rhyme schemes, yet no one is the wiser.

Here are some examples of songs with changing or abandoned rhyme schemes:

Changing Rhyme Scheme:

  • Getting Better by The Beatles
  • Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2

Abandoned Rhyme Scheme:

  • High And Dry by Radiohead
  • Trouble by Coldplay
  • Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel

 

No More Rhyme Now, I Mean It!

Ok, it’s not so much that you shouldn’t use rhyme scheme at all…

Rhyme makes your songs more singable, the lyrics more memorable, they create resolution that can mirror the melodic and harmonic resolution at the end of a musical phrase or section, and you can even use rhyme to set up, and later defy, the listener’s expectations in clever ways. My favorite example of a rhyme setting up and defying expectations comes from Bill Murray’s titular character in the movie what about Bob:

“Roses Are Red,

Violets Are Blue,

I’m A Schizophreniac,

And So Am I”

Want to learn more about how to craft great lyrics, connect with your audience, and express your emotions without sounding cheesy or cliche’? Download my FREE Quick Guide To Writing Better Lyrics:

 

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Master Yoda Syndrome: Rhyme, Or Rhyme Not

Rollin' they see me, Hatin' they be

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard to write good lyrics,

or you feel like your words are trite or cliché, or you can’t seem to put your emotions and thoughts into lyrics, and when you do they make you cringe.

Chances are you might be making a simple, fixable mistake, if you were only made aware of it.

Go to a songwriters forum or open mic and you’re bound to come across the same lyric mistakes over and over. They make an otherwise great song sound amateurish.  In my free Quick Guide To Writing Better Lyrics, I call them the 7 Deadly Sins of Songwriting, and today I want to talk about the biggest one of all, Master Yoda Syndrome…

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The Number 1 Songwriting Sin: Master Yoda Syndrome.

Notice how Yoda talks compared to the linear way that we talk:

  • Slimy? Mud hole? My home, this is
  • Try Not! Do or do not, there is not try
  • Looking? Found someone, you have, I would say, hmm?

Often we want our songs to rhyme. That’s fine, many great songs rhyme, and there a ton of reasons why rhymes make your songs even better. The problem comes in when we start rearranging the order of language.

We end up inverting our lyrics in an unnatural way that makes the songs less singable and draws unnecessary attention to itself.

So How Do We Fix It?

  • Sometimes the best way to fix it is to not rhyme at all. It might sound crazy to suddenly drop the rhyme scheme mid-song, but it happens all the time in great songs, and you probably aren’t even aware of it.  Just say it straight, rhyme or no rhyme.
  • Remove the line and replace it with something else.
  • Once you’ve cut out the offending line, try rearranging the other lines to see if it leaves room for a better idea.
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is sleep on it, and come back to the song in a few hours or the next day, or even in a week.

Vance Joy (James Keogh) stated in an interview with American Songwriter that his hit song “Riptide” started out with only two lines in 2009, and he started putting the rest together in a matter of weeks in 2012.  This works because our brains often solve problems subconsciously when we’re attending to other things. Sometimes the song just isn’t ready, you have yet to gain a key insight or experience that completes the song.

Learn More About Improving Your Lyrics

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your lyricism and start writing better songs now, get my free Quick Guide To Writing Better Lyrics and learn how to avoid the most common lyric pitfalls almost every songwriter falls prey to.

Songwriting Secrets of Music Nerds: Line Cliche’s

Songwriting Secrets - Line Cliche's - not just for nerds

If you like nerding out about how songs are written,

you’ll love this chord progression trick.

Recently I was co-writing a song over the internet with my talented friend Jessie.  She had this song on ukelele that had this sort of 50’s rock throwback vibe to it (or at least that’s how I heard the production in my head), and it needed a bridge.  I immediately started listening to Buddy Holly trying to get my mind an ears in that frame of songwriting.

 

After listening to Buddy Holly’s version of “Raining In My Heart,” written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, I was immediately reminded how cool Line Cliche’s sound.  I suggested she try a Line Cliche’ in the bridge.  It allows you to build a song forward and upward while seemingly staying in place, creating an exciting buildup and a change of pace from the monotony of staying on one chord for too long.

Here’s how LINE CLICHE’S work:

Continued Below…


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What’s CLICHE’ about it?

Well, let’s just say it’s the chord progression responsible for the big Led Zepplin plagiarism lawsuit (and boy oh boy do they steal from other artists).  Also this is one of the most commonly used songwriting techniques in the Beatles catalog.

Here’s some examples of songs with Line Cliche’s:

MAJOR WITH CHROMATIC  ASCENDING 5th:

  • Buddy Holly (written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant) “Raining In My Heart” (verse)
  • Elliott Smith “Say Yes” (bridge)
  • M. Ward “Fisher Of Men” (refrain)
  • John Lennon “(Just Like) Starting Over” (verse)
  • Otis Redding “These Arms Of Mine” (refrain: And if you would let them hold you…)

MINOR WITH CHROMATIC ASCENDING 5th

  • Jude Cristodal’s “I Do” (Bridge)
  • James Bond Theme

MINOR WITH CHROMATIC DESCENDING ROOT

  • The Beatle’s “Cry Baby Cry” (verse)
  • Stairway To Heaven

 

This Altered Chord Trick Changes Everything

IV chord

Today I’m going insult your mom while showing you one of my favorite songwriting tricks:

You’ve heard it before, but you can’t put you’re finger on why or how it makes your hairs stand on end (in a good way).   It’s that moment in the song where the melody stays the same, but somehow it feels…different…magical…exciting

I’m not just talking about some crazy jazz chord substition where you replace the chord with some D Augmented 7 (#9) pop-shove-it 360 nose grind to kickflip with figured bass.

It’s a simple chord change used in:

It’s a cadence (a chord progression of two or more chords that ends a musical section) that involves altering a certain chord from major to minor.  It’s simple:

        1. Determine the key of the song, let’s use C for this example, so we call C the I chord
        1. Find the IV chord of that key by moving to the fourth major scale step in your song’s key
          – move from your root note up 2 whole steps and one half step
          ex. 1 whole step = C to D, 2nd whole step = D to E, one half step = E to F,  therefor the IV chord in the key of C is F
        1. Alter the IV chord to a iv minor chord by lowering the chords Major 3rd down to a minor 3rd
          – Play F major, (F, A, and C), then lower the A to an Ab (F, Ab, C) to make it an F minor chord
        1. The cadence will progress from IV to iv minor to I
          -Play F Major, then F minor, then C Major

TLDR, FOR THE VISUAL LEARNERS, HERE’S AN INFOGRAPHIC:

Inforgraphic showing how to find the IV chord

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