Though rhyme is now considered an integral part of poetry and song, the concept is relatively new in the Western world, first appearing in the Middle Ages. It probably originated as a mnemonic device - a way to help people remember things - and has been a tool in the hands of poets and songwriters ever since.
Types of Rhyme
There are many different types of rhyme. Listed below are those I’ve found most helpful and interesting from a songwriter’s perspective. They are as follows:
• Perfect rhymes are just that: a word pair in which the ending consonant and vowel sounds and are spelled exactly the same. “Same” and “blame”. “Brute” and “absolute”.
• Imperfect rhymes are similar; the final consonants and vowels sound the same but they are spelled differently. From a songwriter’s perspective this difference is moot. “Cane” and “plain”. “Become” and “numb”.
• False rhymes are those in which the ending vowels of two words sound the same but consonants do not. “Done” and “come”. “Plain” and “change”.
• Masculine rhymes are two rhyming words that stress the final syllable. “Subtract” and “intact”. “Believe” and “receive”.
• Feminine rhymes are two rhyming words whose last syllables are unstressed. “Number” and “lumber”. “Mother” and “brother”.
• Conglomerate rhymes are created by combining multiple words or fragments of words which are adjacent to one another. “Compass” and “bump us”. “Benefit” and “then if it”.
• Inside rhymes are rhymes of any of type that occur within a line rather than at the end.
The first step in songwriting is finding a title and checking it for “rhyme-ability”. Writing the individual lines of the lyric can be approached in the same way. If you have blocked your song out, you already know what you need to say; the challenge is finding the right words to say it. The obvious first step is to look for perfect rhymes. Trouble is, there are only so many out there, and most of them have been used to death. This is when you must outsmart your rhyming dictionary and try looking for false rhymes.
Speech and song are really a series of sustained vowels and transient consonants. Therefore, it is the vowels that are of paramount importance when it comes to rhyme. As long as the ending vowel sounds in your false rhyme are the same, the consonant sounds can be surprisingly different and still work when sung. Don’t ever hesitate to use them if it helps you say what you need to say; powerful words always trump a perfect rhyme.
As you search through your rhyming dictionary you will no doubt come across lots of words that rhyme but have no direct relationship with your story. Don’t dismiss them! You can create a relationship via a simile or metaphor and put those words to good use.
Because masculine, feminine, conglomerate, and inside rhymes can also be perfect, imperfect, or false, these types of rhymes are not differentiated by their mechanisms of rhyme, but by their usage.
For example, it is always best to avoid rhyming a masculine word with a feminine one; “become” with “venom” for example. It always comes off sounding awkward. Because feminine rhymes leave the final syllables of their words unstressed, you can also use them to “sneak in” an extra syllable after a rhyme, like so:
But if push comes to shove
Find yourself another lover.
Conglomerate rhymes are the cleverest type, and the possibilities are virtually limitless. They are especially useful as inside rhymes, but they can work at the end of lines as well. Take this brilliant example found in "Gaston", lyrics by Tim Rice (from Disney's Beauty and the Beast):
As a specimen, yes I’m intimidating
The pairing or “specimen” and “yes I’m in…” is both a conglomerate rhyme and an inside rhyme. Inside rhymes serve two purposes: they make lyrics easier to sing, and they increase the pace of the lyric. If you have a verse section that is starting to feel a little longish (often the case in the second verse), sometimes a carefully placed inside rhyme can help to speed the pace up a bit going into the chorus. Be careful to not overuse them, however, or your lyrics may come off sounding too clever. Remember: lyrics should be conversational.
*Photo by bassettsfarm.