Should My Lyrics Rhyme?

Lyrics are the main way you communicate with your audience, but it’s not the only way. What we do with chord progressions, melodic shape, rhythm, and the basic mood we convey with all of those elements, all work together to communicate something to the listener. But lyrics probably stand as the most important way we have of expressing the basic details and narrative of a song’s topic.

For many songwriters, there seems to be a perceived need, almost an urge, to have the lyrics rhyme. But it’s better to focus on the primary goal of a good lyric: to convey a dual message to the listener. Whether the lyric rhymes should be secondary.

So what is the dual message? The first part of that message is the narrative: in other words, you need to tell the listener what’s going on. That’s the job of the verse lyric. A song’s verse will spend most of its time describing events, people, places, and things. It gives the audience the background, the very reason for the song’s existence.

The second part of the message is the emotional reaction: how you, as the songwriter (singer, actually) feel about these events, people, places and things. And it needs to do so with words that are emotion-laden, not necessarily clever.

Secondary to these structural concerns is the question of whether or not a lyric rhymes. Rhyming schemes can be predictable AABB formats, where each line is followed by a lyric that rhymes, or something more creative:

  In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
  Of every head he’s had the pleasure to know.
  And all the people that come and go
  Stop and say hello.


The danger of rhyming lyrics is when the rhyming seems forced. If you find yourself giving up on a more natural way of saying something in favour of a rhyming but forced lyric, you can make your song seem a bit corny.

So the advice here is that if you use rhyming words in your lyric, be sure to look it over carefully and make sure that the rhyming appears instinctive on some level, and allows the song to flow naturally. 

 

-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.

Posted in lyrics, songwriting and tagged , , , .

7 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m a critic, music isn’t normally my forte but I’ve noticed that a lot of English fanmade covers of Japanese songs always seem to force in rhymes and override the original lyrics in what I’ve always viewed as a lazy fashion, even if the songs include English lyrics, they’re usually overwritten in favor of dumb and forced rhymes.

    I’ve often gotten several excuses when criticizing this, such as “the English lyrics “didn’t flow right”” (the English lyrics in this case being of “I can’t get no satisfaction” (which itself is a very obvious musical reference) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFcxoHXWVoU) which was absurdly replaced by “Satisfaction kills the action”… (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2L_XRUSVPY) Even the official English dub cover of the song got this right (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWtOP721n0s), as well as another fan cover (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhX-iYM_XMY)) as well as “Waa! but transwating sawngs is hawrd! Waa!” from people who put zero effort into trying. (Also, I’ve been called a “weeb” for caring about the integrity of ENGLISH lyrics, which is absurd for a number of reasons)

    The worst of these however is “the lyrics don’t matter” which is absurd because the lyrics are the ENTIRE POINT of an English cover, you might as well sing in gibberish if the lyrics are so unimportant.

    • That’s an interesting issue that I confess I haven’t previously given a lot of thought to. Translation of lyrics is something I’ve given a lot of thought to recently. I conduct a choir, and we often sing music in other languages: German, Latin, etc. Sometimes choristers will get a bit grumpy about singing these other languages, since “good” translations of them exist. But my point to the choir is that the sound of the original language is, in my view, a part of the sound of the music. So whenever possible, I opt to sing the original words, and avoid translations, no matter how good they are. I usually print the translations for the audience in the program so they know what we’re singing.

      I know that’s not the specific issue you’re describing, but I completely understand and agree with your opinion on the “lyrics don’t matter” issue. I’m going to give your point of view more thought, as it’s something I haven’t really thought about, or even much addressed on this blog.

      Thanks for your interesting comment.
      -Gary

  2. I’m writing a musical version of a show I had produced as a straight play a number of years ago. I’m writing the lyrics and can’t stop them from rhyming. They sound a little corny to read but appear to work well as part of the song. They do tell the story or develop the story in some way. Some of them are quite lyrical but I I feel uneasy about the simple rhyming structure of each song.

    • If the lyrics are rhyming, but you’re worried about the simplicity of it, you might try some sort of modification of the phrasing of the music. Part of what makes rhyming lyrics seem a bit cute is when the music it’s attached to is evenly phrased. So you might try seeing if there’s a way to modify the music a bit by extending phrases with an extra bar, or even an extra 2 beats here and there. I feel like I’ve got an example in the back of my mind, and if I can think of one I’ll let you know.

      -Gary

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