Structure and Rhyme Schemes

I’ve taken some time off. It felt like stalling, but it was actually gathering energy. My last post was from a trip to Los Angeles. During that trip, I had and unexpected meeting with the owner of Taxi, and connected with Suzan Koç. Both were clear that my structure was preventing me from getting placements. I had a Skype session with Suzan that was a game changer, and it’s taken me a while to get back on my feet.

The most efficient way to write current-sounding songs is to use a hit as a model. Today, I’m looking at lyrics. The song above is very well known. I used a tame video, because the original distracts from the lyric. Wrecking Ball is pretty typical of a modern lyric. It uses a lot of internal and near rhyme.

The verses

There are two verses in this song. It leads in with the first verse after four bars of eighth notes. Each verse is 8 bars long. There is an internal rhyme in the first and third lines. Lines 2 and 4 rhyme with each other. The verses are syncopated.

Verse 1
Line 1: chained rhymes with vain
Line 3: fell rhymes with spell
Lines 3 & 4: why rhymes with deny

Verse 2
Line 1: high rhymes with sky
Line 3: turned rhymes with burn
Lines 2 & 4: down rhymes with ground

The First Hook (Pre-Chorus)

Suzan stressed in our meeting that the structure of songs has changed so much, the traditional names we have for sections of songs don’t quite apply. She will call this section the First Hook. Others will call it the Pre-Chorus. Whatever you call it, it is sandwiched between the verses and chorus, and acts as an intensifier, to drive the ear to the Big Hook or Chorus. It is also eight bars long, and contrasts rhythmically with the verse. But it uses the same rhyme scheme of the verses. A fragment of this (two bars) gets used to lead into the final set of two Choruses (Big Hooks).

First Hook
Line 1: say rhymes with away
Line 3: lie rhymes with life
Lines 2 & 4 are the same: I will always want you.

The Big Hook (Chorus)

The Big Hook, or Chorus, is eight bars and has another shift in rhythm. It uses sixteenth notes to drive to the strong beats (one and three). The rhyme scheme also changes to a more traditional every other line, with a small coda (two additional bars) on the last line.

Big Hook
Lines 1 & 3: ball rhymes with walls
Lines 2 & 4: love rhymes with was, followed by a coda of wreck me.

The (Suspension) Bridge

Another change in music over the past ten years is the function of the Bridge. The Bridge used to work as a build or lift into the final Chorus. Now, because the rest of the song is designed to build tension, the Bridge is a time to pull back and reflect, like drawing back the bow in archery. In this song, the Bridge is nearly twice as long as the other sections, 14 bars. This asymmetry adds to the floaty feel. The rhythm slows down, with all the movement at the front of each bar. The rhyme scheme echoes the Big Hook (Chorus) with every other line.

(Suspension) Bridge
Lines 1 & 3: war rhymes with force
Lines 2 & 4: in rhymes with win, omitting the third line the second time around.

Finding the rhymes

I will leave you with one final bit. Perfect rhymes make you sound like you’re trying too hard. Near rhymes sound fresher, and that’s what the industry is looking for. Start by coming up with some lines that match the rhythm of your melody. PLEASE consider proper word stress when you do this. Nothing makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end like setting the word “unconditional” as “uncondiTIONal.” There are rhyming dictionaries online. Use them. One I like is Rhymer by WordExpress. Throw out anything that doesn’t have the proper word stress and start experimenting with lines. Write down bunches of them and use the best ones. Go for the near rhyme, shattered rhyming with answered instead of battered. Play with the language, use internal rhymes, but keep the number of bars consistent. And listen to the current hits. They can be good guides.


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