Pat's Lyric Tips

How To Create Different Journeys with Rhyme Schemes

I did a master class in Perth, Australia and worked on a song with Rachel Dillon. Here are the first two verses and the chorus from her lovely song, Bellbird Hill:

We grew up together in the same small town

Standing watching summer storms coming down

You with hair of gold and a will so strong

I hardly said boo but my heart was full of song

You chased the ducks I ran from the drake

We skipped rocks on the dam and swam in the lake

Pretended to drive ‘cross the state in an abandoned old van

And we ran, and we ran

 

Hell for leather, hell for leather

Hell for leather, down Bellbird Hill

a

a

b

b​

c

c

d

d

We had an interesting time talking about this song. We looked at the images, how they SHOW rather than TELL – creating pictures in our own heads, involving us in the song, because they’re our pictures. The earlier in the song you see them, the earlier the song becomes about you.

 

So let’s switch the first two lines of verse 1. The summer storms line shows us something, and creates a nice bag of dye that drips downward to color the lines below it:

Standing watching summer storms coming down

Growing up together in the same small town

You with hair of gold and a will so strong

I hardly said boo but my heart was full of song

You chased the ducks I ran from the drake

We skipped rocks on the dam and swam in the lake

Pretended to drive ‘cross the state in an abandoned old van

And we ran, and we ran

 

Hell for leather, hell for leather

Hell for leather, down Bellbird Hill

a

a

b

b​

c

c

d

d

Compare the two versions: with lines 1 and 2 switched, and without them switched. See how putting the image first drips its colors onto the ‘Growing up…” line? Almost always works better. And, because it’s the first thing we see (therefore, in a big spotlight), it colors the whole thing more deeply. Read both versions and see what you think. I’ll wait.

 

But we especially talked about Rachel’s use of rhyme. Her aabb verse rhyme scheme, carried for two verses, actually creates four sections, not two. It stops motion four times. A very stable feeling: lots of stops.

 

We tried turning both verses from aabb rhyme schemes into abab rhyme schemes to create a 4-line journey:

Standing watching summer storms coming down

You with hair of gold and a will so strong

Growing up together in the same small town

I hardly said boo but my heart was full of song

You chased the ducks I ran from the drake

Pretended to drive ‘cross the state in an abandoned old van

We skipped rocks on the dam and swam in the lake

And we ran, and we ran

 

Hell for leather, hell for leather

Hell for leather, down Bellbird Hill

a

b

a

b​

c

d

c

d

This is still stable, but you move smoothly through four lines without stopping. With abab cdcd, you don’t stop every 2 lines, and it creates two units of 4 lines, while aabb, ccdd, creates four units of 2 lines. Now they feel like verses, with the lines moving into each other.

 

Then, instead of abab, we tried unrhyming the first couplet to create a less stable, more open journey, xxaa. You don’t hear any rhyme until the last syllable of the verse, ending with a surprise rhyme at the 4th line of each verse. I especially like the feel of the 2nd verse this way:

Standing watching summer storms rolling by

Growing up together in the same small town

You with hair of gold and a will so strong

I hardly said boo but my heart was full of song

You chased the ducks I ran from the goose

We skipped rocks on the dam and swam in the lake

Pretended to drive ‘cross the state in an abandoned old van And we ran, and we ran

 

Hell for leather, hell for leather

Hell for leather, down Bellbird Hill

x

x

a

a

x

x

b

b

Finally, we tried abba, hoping to create a more wistful feeling with the open, unstable motion it creates:

Standing watching summer storms coming down

You with hair of gold and a will so strong

I hardly said boo but my heart was full of song

Growing up together in the same small town

Pretended to drive ‘cross the state in an abandoned old van

We skipped rocks on the dam and swam in the lake

You chased the ducks I ran from the drake
And we ran, and we ran

 

Hell for leather, hell for leather

Hell for leather, down Bellbird Hill

a

b

b​

a

c

d

d

c

I like the effect of the internal rhymes van/dam/swam in blurring the motion, helping to create a floating, nostalgic feel. Pretty neat.

 

A rhyme scheme can be an expressive tool. We tried four rhyme schemes on Bellbird Hill and each created a different journey – same words, just a different arrangement of rhyme scheme (motion) to create the different emotions.

 

It’s nice to be able to lay out the choices – to know what choices you have and how each one makes you feel. Then you can choose the one that feels best to you. But always try your options. You never know…

 

Have fun. Write fearlessly.

© 2019 Pat Pattison