“When I think about you
I think about 17
I think about my old Jeep
I think about the stars in the sky
Funny how a melody sounds like a memory
Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night
- Eric Church
We’ve had a lot of fun with rhyming in the workshops lately. It’s one of my favourite topics to run as everyone gets involved and they always come up with words I’d have never thought of.
This is how we do it:
If we begin at the point where you know what your song is going to be about, you are sure of the story you’re trying to tell and you have already written down some words, phrases, ideas for the lyrics.
Highlight some of the key words you have already chosen. These might simply be the ones you like and want to use the most, those that best fit with the story and style you’re aiming for, or it might be that you have half a verse or chorus written and desperately need to rhyme the lines you have.
Whatever stage you’re at, it can be very helpful to do these two things:
Starting with the key words you’ve highlighted (aim for between 4 and 10), play the word association game with them as follows. Note that you are not trying to rhyme here, but rather to end up with a longer list of words to play with.
Key word – Snow
Word association – white, heavy, bright, cold, winter, fun.
Then we’ll take each of these words and find rhyming words to match them, such as:
Snow – go, alone, won’t, show, tone, phone.
White – bright, sight, mine, tide, shine.
This should give you five to ten times as many words to work with. You’ll also find some additional rhyming words that have appeared unintentionally through the word association process.
Hard rhymes share the same hard ending, like:
Light, sight, fight
Hot, shot, what
Soft rhymes share the same soft vowel sounds, like:
Why, fly, mine
Away, say, lake
Try to use a mixture of both types.
Anyone who has ever attended one of my workshops will know how much I love to share these colour-coded rhyme schemes. They make songwriting so much easier.
Think of them as a template to fill in.
Let’s say you want to write a four-line verse, pick one of the schemes and you can clearly see which lines need to rhyme with which.
Like anything, there are many variations to these and many ways to use the basics of the patterns and adapt them to fit your own style, but when you’re starting out in songwriting they can be very helpful in getting closer to a finished song.
Even though I now prefer writing without deciding on a rhyme scheme from the outset, I always refer to them to make sure that there is consistency in my songs. For example, if you’ve used a particular pattern in verse 1, you’re probably going to want to make sure verse 2 follows the same pattern.
Here are some examples from my songs.
Going our own way, Chevy pointed south
The time we spent the summer
Losing track of days, town to little town
('Driving California' by Rachel Ireland)
On a barstool as the sun drops
Down into the sea
Thinking about the future
And where he wanted to be
He bought another round of drinks
And raised one to new friends
He promised himself things would change
Silently he said...
('Tomorrow will be the day' by Debbie Mann & Rachel Ireland)
It’s a beautiful day, the sun is out
We’re all together in the here and now
Time’s slowed down enough to help us see
We were ready to make a change
So we walk and talk the hours away
Searching to find what this all means
('Never have this day again' by Rachel Ireland)
Although I’ll talk about rhythm in more detail in a future post, good rhymes will only sound good if they follow the same rhythm. The simplest way to check whether your rhyme will work is to read it out loud, even before you put any music to your song. If you can’t easily read out your lyrics they won’t work when you sing them.
Easy option – clap your hands in a 4/4 beat (simply counting 1,2,3,4) and check that you can fit your lyrics to the count. How many beats does the line last? You want it to be 2, 4, 6 or 8. Then, make sure the other lines in that verse or chorus have the same number of beats too (even the non-rhyming lines
Harder option – count the syllables in your first line then adjust the wording of all the other lines so that they have the same number of syllables (give or take 1 or 2 maximum).