Songwriting

Forget About Rhyming, For A Moment

I love working with songwriters on their songs. We’ll put our heads together and craft a replacement line of lyric to make the song stronger. We’ll brainstorm, tossing ideas back and forth, and there’s something that often gets in the way of finding a great line – RHYME.

The Cart Before The Horse

Yes, chances are that we’ll probably want the same rhyme that was in the original line, so ultimately we’ll want a rhyming word, but here’s the key to making your lyric ‘pop’ – make sure your new line says something great. If all we do is replace a not-so-great line of lyric with another not-so-great line of lyric, which does no better to work for the song, then the new line is useless to us. Telling your brain to compromise on the line’s meaning in order to find something that rhymes – that’s a recipe for failure.

So, rather than tying yourself to the rhyme, step back and ask yourself what the line should be about. Indeed, before suggesting a ho-hum line that happens to rhyme without adding something great to your song, stop and think about what you wish your new line would speak to the listener.

Maybe It Actually Needs A New Rhyme

Leave your mind open to this possibility – perhaps we can come up with a line that doesn’t rhyme, but which is actually better than the line we were trying to rhyme in the first place. If that’s the case, we should go with the new line and then find a better version of the line we were trying to rhyme.

Test Drive

Let’s say we have this four-line verse:
Life is the best when we’re driving my car
I’m in the driver’s seat
Wind in our hair and the radio on
Shoes on the soles of my feet

That’s not from any song I know – I just made up four lines, and hopefully you’ll agree with me that the fourth line is pretty weak and in need of a better option. So let’s begin brainstorming alternatives.

Our rhyme scheme is abcb – that is, the 2nd and 4th lines rhyme, while the 1st and 3rd do not rhyme. Chances are, that rhyme scheme is the one we’re using for all of our verses, so now is NOT the time to depart from that.

Some ideas tossed around for a new line four:
Police radar we will cheat
What’s up with this crazy heat?
Alabama we will meet
Better than using our feet

The common problem with all of those suggestions? They’re rhyme-driven, instead of looking for something to SAY which drives the emotion of the song. I especially love the suggestions that sound like they came from Jedi Master Yoda (Alabama we will meet. Yes. Hmmmm.). What if, instead of rhyming, we decided what we wanted to say in our fourth line, something like “Burning up the I-95“? That’s so much more interesting. But it doesn’t rhyme – so I guess we can’t use it? Think again. I like that line so much, I’m prepared to find a replacement for the line that it should rhyme, line two.

So if we need something that will rhyme with “Burning up the I-95“, let’s start a new brainstorm, keeping in mind that we want a line that says something interesting. After some time, we come up with “You and me, side by side“. You know what? It says something to help paint the picture, and it goes hand in hand with the rest of the verse.

Now we have:
Life is the best when we’re driving my car
You and me, side by side
Wind in our hair and the radio on
Burning up the I-95

That’s a better four-line section than the one we started with. I’d undoubtedly dig deeper and look to re-work every one of the lines, but at least we’re moving in the right direction. And we did it without tying ourselves to the rhyme sound that was already on the page!

Give It A Try

Be sure to try this, the next time you’re rewriting a line in your song. Put away the rhyming dictionary at first, and make sure you come up with a line that says something, a line that deserves to be in your song. If you can rhyme it with the existing lines, fantastic, but don’t limit yourself to the rhyme sound that’s there already. And while you’re not looking at the rhyme dictionary, consider a thesaurus instead, to spark your imagination and discover some rich alternatives!


If you like what you read above, maybe you'd like to work with Allister at Tilted White Shed? Reach out through the Contact Us page.

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