Have You Mastered all 7 of these Basic Rhyme Schemes?

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.

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.

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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.

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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! [...]