What are Rhyme Schemes?

Rhyme schemes: love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are a useful part of songs that provide structure (or unstructured, if that’s what you’re going for). 

A rhyme is words that end in a similar sounding vowel. You can have perfect rhymes (boat/moat) or imperfect rhymes (boat/globe).

A rhyme scheme is the pattern of where the rhymes match up in a section.

For example, you can have lines that match up right after the other:

A: Hickory, dickory dock
A: The mouse ran up the clock
B: The clock struck one
B: The mouse went down
A: Hickory dickory dock

The first line establishes the first rhyme, so we name it ‘A’. Since the second line also rhymes like the first line, we also name it ‘A’.

The third and fourth lines are new rhymes that rhyme with each other, so we name those two lines ‘B’.

The last line rhymes with the first two lines, so we are back at ‘A’.

There are several Verses in this song and the rhymes follow the same patterns. Therefore, we could say the rhyme scheme for this song is AABBA.

Let’s look at “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran:

The first Verse:

A: Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes
B/X: But it’s the only thing that I know
A: When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes
A: It is the only thing makes us feel alive

This stanza/section has a rhyme scheme of ABAA. You could also call it AXAA because the second line doesn’t end up rhyming with anything. 

Here is another example of using no rhymes/X in a song:

A: We keep this love in a photograph
X: We made these memories for ourselves
B: Where our eyes are never closing
B: Hearts are never broken
B: And time’s forever frozen

X: Still

This section is interesting because it has some lines that don’t rhyme at all. When we put ‘X’ in a rhyme scheme, no ‘X’ ever rhymes together—it only indicates lines that do not fit in a rhyme scheme. This section has an odd rhyme scheme of AXBBB (we might not count the last X because it’s an afterthought).

The most common rhyme schemes are usually four lines:

AABB
ABAB
ABCB or ABXB
AABA or AAXA

You can have rhyme schemes for five lines, like we’ve seen in the examples. You can have rhyme schemes for three lines, six lines, etc. There are no rules for which rhyme schemes/which patterns you should use. The only thing to keep in mind that the more rhymes there are, the more structured we feel as listeners. Vice versa, the fewer rhymes there are, the more off-kilter the section will feel.

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