Why your Rhymes are Getting in your Way

There are many songwriters out there who argue that the lyrics don’t matter. I hear this especially when I hear critique of pop music, and how the lyrics are “too simple” and the songwriters just write anything down, as long as it sounds catchy. This might be true in some cases, but truly great songs that connect with people tend to have great lyrics.

Sometimes we think we have a great song. We’re writing one night, the lyrics are flowing and everything seems to be falling in place. Then we listen back the next morning, and it’s not as great as we thought it was. What happened?

It could be many things. Today, let’s explore rhymes.

Here is an example of a verse that feels overdone and a little boring:

“When I see you around
My heart falls to the ground
I can’t take the desire
It burns me up like fire”

On the surface, it doesn’t seem so terrible (albeit, very cheesy). It rhymes, it expresses the main idea and it’s a complete thought. There are many ways to improve this verse, but let’s work primarily on the rhymes.

Very generally speaking, there are Perfect rhymes and Imperfect rhymes. Perfect rhymes use the exact same suffix every time (in our case, “around” and “ground”). There are masculine versions of Perfect rhymes where the word ends on the stressed syllable, which are exactly the same (“articulate” and “late” and “emulate”). There are also feminine versions, where the suffixes are the same, but the word ends on the unstressed syllable (“over” and “rover”).

Imperfect Rhymes are basically every other type of rhyme, where the suffix is not the same but has the same vowel sound. Let’s look at an example by Lewis Capaldi in his song “Someone You Loved”:

“I need somebody to heal
Somebody to know
Somebody to have
Somebody to hold”

In this example, Capaldi rhymes “know” with “hold”. It is not an exact rhyme, but it is vastly more interesting than if he had rhymed “know” with “grow” or “show”. Looking at the first example, we could change our rhymes around:

“When I see you around
I wish I could shout”

All of a sudden, the Imperfect rhyme helps it feel a little more palatable. It doesn’t sound exactly the same, but there is still the satisfaction of the rhyme. It’s also more natural for us to say, like we were actually speaking to the person in the song.

When it comes to the next two lines (“I can’t take the desire / It burns me up like fire”), not only is it a Perfect rhyme, but it is a Cliché rhyme. There are many Cliché rhymes that we’ve heard one too many times, and they are mostly Perfect rhymes:

Fire/desire
Heart/apart
Love/above/dove
Night/Light
Said/Head

The list goes on. While you can use these rhymes if you want to, most of us probably want to improve and push forward to something a little more interesting. Let’s try to change our example:

“I can’t take the desire
But it turns me into a fighter”

Depending on the context of the song, it might work better, or not at all. It’s good to explore your options within both Perfect and Imperfect rhymes.

Does this mean you shouldn’t use Perfect rhymes at all? Of course not. They can be quite effective in hook lines or choruses in general. Where the main or straightforward idea needs to be stressed, Perfect rhymes deliver the simplicity that may be needed.

Take your time when writing to find those great rhymes and bring new life to your song. But also, don’t stress about it; it is completely fine to use filler lines until you have time to go back and do a little editing. Figure out what your song needs, go forth and write.

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