Have You Mastered all 7 of these Basic Rhyme Schemes?

Moleskine notebook, silver pen, and a mug of coffeeHave you been using the same rhyme scheme over and over? Try a new one from this list of 7.

When I first started writing songs, I didn’t give any thought to rhyme schemes at all. Without realizing it, I used the same two rhyme schemes over and over for five years: ABAB and AA. My writing got stale and boring, but it took me a while to realize that the overused rhyme schemes were my problem.

Feeling stale? Try a fresh new rhyme scheme.

Whether you’re writing poetry, rap lyrics, or songs in any musical genre, different rhyme schemes pull different material out of you.

Trying out a new rhyme scheme disrupts your usual habits and unlocks new ideas. And just like a chord progression, each rhyme scheme creates patterns of suspense and release. Rhyme can make words themselves sound beautifully musical.

Below I’ve listed some four-line rhyme schemes for you to play with. Schemes you’re unfamiliar with may feel a bit strange at first, but stick with them–they can lead to real breakthroughs in your songwriting.

abab

An interlocking rhyme scheme. Rhyme line 1 with line 3; also line 2 with line 4. A classic, often-used rhyme scheme.

xaxa

This scheme’s a little looser and less predictable than some of the others. Rhyme lines 2 and 4; make sure that lines 1 and 3 don’t rhyme. The two non-rhymed lines will allow you some freedom–and save mileage on your rhyming dictionary.

aabb

This scheme divides a section of four lines into two rhymed couplets, each of which sounds kind of complete  unto itself.

aaaa

This one’s tough to pull off. To relieve monotony, you might try making some of the lines much shorter than the others—varying line length will make it sound less predictable.

axaa

Line 2 is all alone, left hanging. This scheme contains a bit of tension–try it and see.

abba

A rhyming pair sandwiched inside of another rhyming pair.

axxa

Like XAXA above, AXXA is a wild card. The two middle lines are unpredictable; they don’t rhyme with each other or any other line in the stanza. This one’s a personal favorite of mine; I like the way those two middle lines keep the audience in suspense. I also like the way the last line releases the tension.

Exercise

If you’ve been mostly using ABAB and AABB like I was, try one of the rhyme schemes above for the verse sections of your next song. Write the scheme at the top of the page and get started–if you need a song idea, no worries–you can free write until an interesting lyric premise falls out.

Click here to return to The Songwriter’s Guide to Rhyme.

photo by Pen Waggener

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Comments

    • Nicholas Tozier says

      Me too; for a long time all I did was instinctually rhyme couplets at the end of song sections to make it feel conclusive.

      I’ve really come to love playing with different rhyme schemes.

  1. says

    It appears that a lot of rappers stick to one scheme (i.e. Drake, Big Sean, Kanye, etc). I think this happens because of the inability to keep up the flow with varied schemes. Eminem and Pharoahe Monch do an excellent job of switching up their schemes. This website is great…peace and blessings

    • Nicholas Tozier says

      Thanks, Praverb! Your site’s great too!

      Yeah, it’s really hard to keep momentum with complex schemes sometimes. I’ve got to reach more. I’ve mostly been banging around inside of my little ABAB/AABB comfort zone…

  2. callie says

    i am 16, ive been writing lyrics for almost 3 years. Though I ccannot compose music instrumentally, (i wish i could but i dont have the patience to self-teach), i am a singer and lover of all art forms. Ive tried alot of different rhyme schemes in my lyrics and it does entirely change the complexity of a song. I do enjoy the challenge of trying to stay away from the ABAB crutch that i used for a long time. you are encouraging songwriters to get out of this shell and i appreciate that. Your lyrics evolve for the better when you try different schemes.

  3. Forgotmyabcs says

    I try my hardest to vary my rhyme schemes, but I always come out with a seemingly free verse poem. It never seems to have any lyrical value.

  4. theterramassive says

    I like this post, helped me out a bit considering my writing is dependent on the intellect of the rhyming and the meaning, has a lot of pace changing too, so this will help.
    Also worth noting is rhyming inside sentences:
    ACBD

    A rhymes with C, however C is full of words in a specific tempo that also rhyme.
    “I liked the way she looked tonight,
    All tight in white; a delight tonight”
    Same for B and D.

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