Have You Mastered all 7 of these Basic Rhyme Schemes?

photo of a notebook, pen, and a cup 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 (if you’re not sure what these mean, check out this post: How to Read and Notate Rhyme Schemes).

Have you fallen into a rhyming rut without realizing it?

Try a fresh new rhyme scheme.

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

Trying out a new rhyme scheme forces you out of your usual writing habits and leads to new discoveries. For both poets and songwriters, a new rhyme scheme also creates fresh patterns of suspense and release, just like a chord progression does. Rhyme can make words themselves sound beautifully musical — so you can write lyrics that almost sing themselves.

Below I’ve listed six basic four-line rhyme schemes for you to experiment 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 poetry or song lyric writing.

Update: as of May 2015, I’m extending this post with more in-depth explanation of each scheme, along with classic examples and poetic forms that use each scheme. Progress as of today: ABAB, XAXA, AABB, AAAA, AXAA, ABBA, AXXA.

ABAB

ABAB is a classic, often-used rhyme scheme with interlocking rhymes. It’s sometimes called alternate rhyme.

To write in the ABAB rhyme scheme:

  • Rhyme line 1 with line 3
  • Rhyme line 2 with line 4

Here’s an example of ABAB in action, as written by William Shakespeare:

A      O, if I say, you look upon this verse,
B       When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
A      Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
B       But let your love even with my life decay…

This ABAB rhyme scheme is built into the famous poetic form called the Shakespearean sonnet.

XAXA

This scheme’s a little unpredictable, because it has two lines that don’t rhyme with anything. This allows the writer (that’s you!) a little more creative freedom. The two non-rhymed lines allow you to focus on what you really mean to say in your lyric.

To write in the XAXA rhyme scheme:

  • Rhyme line 2 with line 4
  • Make sure that lines 1 and 3 don’t rhyme with each other or with any other line

XAXA is the rhyme scheme followed by a traditional poetic form called the ghazal.

AABB

This scheme divides a section of four lines into two rhymed couplets, each of which sounds kind of complete in 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, or AAXA

One of the lines in each of these schemes is left hanging. This scheme contains a bit of tension — try it and see.

AAXA is found in the Persian poetic form called the ruba’i.

ABBA

A rhyming pair sandwiched inside of another rhyming pair. This scheme’s also known as enclosed rhyme.

The AABA rhyme scheme is found in the poetic form called the Petrarchan sonnet.

AXXA

Like XAXA above, AXXA allows the writer some extra creative freedom. 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 until the the last line finally releases the tension.

Exercise

If you’ve been mostly using ABAB and AABB like I did for years, try one of the rhyme schemes above for the verses of a new lyric. Write the scheme at the top of a blank 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.

  5. Alexander says

    I’m 18 and I’m just beginning to pick up rapping because I just did not know where to start. I found out the first thing you have to learn is the rhyme schemes and this site has given me a different view on it. Thanks allot for your help. I was also wondering if you can help with other rapping skills as well

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  1. […] Have You Mastered all 7 of these Basic Rhyme Schemes?Dec 2, 2011 … Too many songwriters get stuck in rhyming ruts–check out these six basic rhyme schemes on Nicholas Tozier’s songwriting blog! […]