When I first started writing songs, I didn’t give any thought to rhyme schemes at all. Without giving it any conscious thought, I relied on the same two rhyme schemes over and over for my first five years of songwriting: ABAB and–when I needed that thud-thud feeling of closure at the end of a section–I’d use AA.
Then I became aware of the wider range of options available, and suddenly writing songs felt totally new and exciting again.
The cool thing is that trying out a new rhyme scheme disrupts your usual writing habits and unlocks new ideas. And just like a chord progression, each rhyme scheme creates patterns of tension and release. Words themselves really can be musical, even when they haven’t been set to a melody.
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.
An interlocking rhyme scheme. Rhyme line 1 with line 3; also line 2 with line 4. A classic, often-used rhyme scheme.
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.
This scheme divides a section of four lines into two rhymed couplets, each of which sounds kind of complete unto itself.
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.
Line 2 is all alone, left hanging. This scheme contains a bit of tension–try it and see.
A rhyming pair sandwiched inside of another rhyming pair.
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.
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.