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Rhyme and how to use it in your songwriting

A Rhyme in Time, now that’s creative. Almost as original as rhyming moon with June. I would call them both rhyme crimes. But what exactly is a rhyme? Is it two words that sound the same? Pretty close. Webster’s has several definitions. My favorite is: “A word answering in sound to another word.” which makes me think of Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy singing, “When I’m calling you, will you answer true”.

But I digress.

I’ve compiled a list of the rhymes I think are the most important, but there are lots more.


1. Perfect Rhyme – major accent

Which is subdivided into Masculine, Feminine, Trisyllabic and mosaic forms.
The masculine is perhaps the most common and certainly the most used. It commonly has only one syllable, but there are exceptions such as retrain/refrain. As long as the last syllable is stressed it will be considered masculine. Because the main attribute of masculine-rhyme is that the two words have the same sound in the middle vowel and the ending consonant or vowel sound. Such as, yep you guessed it, moon/June or tree/me.

Apparently women are smarter than men since the feminine version has two syllables. Although as mentioned above masculine can have two syllables the major difference is the feminine always has two syllables and the stress is on the first syllable. A good example is staple/maple.

Pretty self-explanatory, each word in the rhyme has three syllables. Sometimes also referred to as feminine. One of the most common is beautiful/dutiful. You can draw your own conclusion on that.

In mosaic rhyme one word will rhyme with two others, for instance earthquake/mirth shake is an example of a Mosaic rhyme. Mosaic rime is often very funny such as pneumonia/phone ya from the Burt Bacharach song, “I’ll never fall in love again”.

2. Perfect Rhyme – minor accent

Which is subdivided into Apocopated, Broken, Contiguous and Internal. Apocopated and broken are very similar in that a part of one word rhymes with another word. Or two.

Rhyming on the first syllable of each word, such as cope/hopeless.

A broken rhyme is where one word rhymes with two other, such a clover/go over.

Contiguous occurs where two words that are close to each other rhyme. Strictly speaking they should be next to each other, such as true blue. Otherwise they would be an internal rhyme.

If the rhyme is not at the end of the line, but inside the line then it would be an internal and is very popular in pop music.

3. Near Rhyme

Near rhyme can be subdivided into two types, Assonance and Consonance. It is an advanced technique and probably should have it’s own article.

Also called vowel rhyme, assonance is where the vowels rhyme but not the consonants. A good example is same/cave, notice the long a.

The opposite of assonance, consonance rhyme is where there are similar sounding consonants, such as green/tan.

If you were paying attention you may remember that masculine perfect rhyme is where two words have the same sound in the middle vowel and the ending consonant or assonance and consonance.

Rhyming Techniques

Rhymes can occur at the beginning of a line, in the middle or at the end. Rhymes that start lines are rather rare. Most of the time you will use end rhyme, i.e. the last words in the line.

Most songwriting articles warn against cliches. The challenge is to make it interesting and unique. That’s where the different types of rhymes come in handy. There is nothing wrong with using several different types of rhymes, in fact I encourage it, just be sure your songs overall feel stays consistent.

By varying the type of rhyme you can present different viewpoints. For instance a song where the main character vocalizes a phrase then thinks about what was said. A masculine rhyme (external) with a feminine rhyme (internal) would be a good choice.

As mentioned before internal rhyme is in danger of being overused. Used correctly though it can really punch up a song. But be careful, unless you’re Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen.

No rhyme at all

At one time this would have been considered heresy but today it is widely accepted. One of the biggest hits of our time, ‘Wind beneath my Wings’ by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar mixes rhyming lines and non-rhyming lines very effectively.

Which brings me to this point; the most important consideration when choosing your rhymes is to use words that complement, or even better, strengthen your music. Rhymes are a tool, a very important one but still a tool. In the final analysis you want to communicate your feelings or ideas not impress folks with your clever rhymes.

You may want to use a couple of complementary writing techniques. Alliteration can be a powerful tool. ‘Wind beneath my Wings’ is a good example. Paying attention to your vowel sounds can also pay some dividends Short or soft vowel sounds tend to be more romantic and or reflective. Long vowel sounds are more angry and assertive. Try to use words that fit with what your song is expressing.

Just remember, don’t sacrifice meaning for technique.

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