Make It Fit

Now you're probably asking, " How do I make all that rhyming stuff (and everything else) fit with my song?" I'm glad you asked!

Remember when I talked about taking notes and writing down ideas for a song? (See the entries "An Example" and "Taking Notes" from the October archives.) Once you get a theme for a song, you write down several key words and/or phrases that you want in the lyrics. In our example we used the theme of "the name of Jesus." Our key words were "Jesus" and "authority." We could probably put "name" in there too. We also had one line for the song, "The name of Jesus is above every name." That sounds like a good line for the chorus, although it's a little long. We could modify it a little so that it looks like this: "The name of Jesus is above ev'ry name." We just took the word "every," which has 3 syllables (ev-er-y) and reduced it to two (ev-ry). This mechanism for shortening words is perfectly fine if you are careful not to over use it. Now our new line has 11 syllables, so the following lines ideally have 11 lines, or maybe 10.

For a rhyme scheme, lets use the old A-A-B-B setup. Remember that this means that the first 2 lines will rhyme, and the last two lines will rhyme. To keep things simple, we'll start out the second line with "The name of Jesus..." and we'll end with a word that rhymes with "name." A rhyming dictionary is very handy here, but if you don't have one yet, here's a little rhyming trick:

Start with the sound that you want to rhyme with, in this case "-ame." Now, starting with "A" add a letter of the alphabet to the begining of that sound. If you start with "A" you get "aame." Is that a word? No, but it reminds you of "aim." Write it down. Now, try "B"--"bame." That's not a word either--but blame is. Go through the entire alphabet like that and you'll have a pretty good base of rhymes. Oh, yeah, don't forget consonant vowels like "sh-", "th-" and "ch-." So our of the letters we've gone through so far we have "aim," "blame," and "shame." "Shame" strikes my fancy, so we'll use that as our rhyme. How about this:

The name of Jesus is above ev'ry name
The name of Jesus redeems me from shame

That's a pretty good start. Now see if you can come up with the last two lines. Then leave a comment to tell me what you got.

Tim Heider

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What Rhymes with Heaven?

There are some other creative things that you can do with rhymes. One method that is sometimes used in called an internal rhyme. This is when you have two words that you rhyme on purpose in the same line of the song. Here's an example:

Give My Love
Words and music by
Christa and Tim Heider
(c) 2004

Vs. 1
God above, God of love----------A
You freely gave Your life away--B
A sacrifice to show the way-----B
That is why I sing--------------C
Vs. 2
Perfect One, God's own Son----A
Came to earth to set me free---B
For the life you gave to me-----B
That is why I sing--------------C
Why I sing---------------------C

Did you see it? It's in the first line of both verses--above and love in the first verse and One and Son in the second verse. Notice that each rhyme in the line comes right in the middle--it is in the middle of the phrase. This just adds a little interest to the song.

The most common type of rhyme is the end rhyme, where the last letter and last vowel sound are the same, such as "son,""one,""begun," etc. Unfortunately, there are only so many rhymes in the English language, and most of them have been used over and over again. There are some ways to get around this, however.

You could be especially creative in forming the lines of your song to incorporate less common rhymes, such as "one" and "carnation." But that rather uncommon word in a song would have to fit the theme or the line won't make sense, no matter how creative you are. For instance, "Perfect One, like a white carnation" in reference to God probably wouldn't work too well. True, there could be a connection between perfection and the white pedals of a flower, but actually using that phrase is stretching the line of thought a little too thin. The listener should be able to follow the thought of the song easily without having to do any mental gymnastics.

For some words, there just aren't very many rhymes. For instance, what rhymes with "Heaven"? According to the rhyme dictionary on my computer, there are 20 words that rhyme with heaven, but most of them are words that would be difficult to use, such as "Beethoven," "cordovan," and "riboflavin." Very difficult to use in a Christian song. The word most often used to rhyme with "heaven" is "seven" but even the usage of that is limited. What do you do?

In a case like this, you can use false rhymes--words that almost rhyme, but not quite. You'll need a rhyming dictionary for this (check your local bookseller, or the internet.) Now, think of a word that is similar to "heaven", that sounds the same, but maybe with a different consonant on the end. How about "send?" The "n" on heaven and "d" on send are similar enough where you can make a false rhyme out of them. If you don't want to use "send" in your song check your rhyming dictionary to find a word that rhymes with it. It's not a perfect rhyme, but it can get you out of a bind if you just can't come up with a rhyming word.

Tim Heider

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Scheming Rhyme Schemes

Another important aspect of poetry and songwriting is rhyme. As I mentioned earlier, not all songs use rhymes, but your song will have a smoother feel if rhymes are used along with even rhythm in the number of syllables. Even well-known poets who didn't utilize rhyme in their work made sure that they used a constant syllable pattern.

Rhyme patterns can be found by putting a letter of the alphabet, starting with A, at the end of each line. Lines that end with the same sound (they rhyme) have the same letter. A simple example would be:

I am a frog----A
I'm not a dog--A
I'm in a log----A
I am a frog----A

Seldom will you find a song or poem that rhymes every line. More often every other line will rhyme:

I am a frog--------A
I like to eat--------B
I'm in a bog-------A
My name is Pete--B

Of course, you could get really creative with your rhyme patterns, especially when you have more lines, and longer lines. Here are the examples from last time:

"My Hope is You"
Artist: Third Day
Album: Offerings

My hope is You---------A
Show me Your ways---B
Guide me in truth------A
In all my days---------B
My hope is You--------A

This one is a pretty straight-forward A-B-A-B rhyme scheme. Another common scheme is A-B-C-B, or a variation, such as A-B-A-C. These still have alternate rhyming lines, but the lines in between them do not rhyme.

"Praise You in This Storm"
Artist: Casting Crowns
Album: Lifesong

And I will praise You in this storm --A
And I wil lift my hands--------------B
For you are who You are------------C
No matter where I am--------------B
And ev'ry tear I've cried------------D
You hold in Your hand--------------B
You never left my side--------------D
And though my heart is torn--------E
I will praise You in this storm-------E

This one's more complicated. It's almost Shakespearian, actually--it's similar to a sonnet. Anyway, you'll notice that it has a lot more letters to it. The first line doesn't rhyme with anything (well, it does, but we'll talk about that later). After that, for the next 5 lines, every other line rhymes with "hand." The word "are" doesn't rhyme with any other ending words, so it has a letter of its own. Then we have "cried" and "side" as alternate line rhymes, and finally "torn" and "storm." Yes, I know they rhyme with the first line of the song, but since so many other letters (and rhymes) have been used between the two, the last two lines get their own letters.

OK, enought about rhymes for now. Let me know how your songwriting is going so far.

Tim Heider

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Syllables and Such

One thing that is very important in writing a song is the number of syllables in each line. Remember syllables? If not, try the following exercise. Put the back of your hand on your chin and read the first sentence out loud. Each time you feel your hand drop is one syllable. So, the first line (in syllables) would be something like this: "one" has 1 syllable, "thing," "that," and "is" have 1 syllable, "very" has 2, "important" has 3, and so on.

You must be very judicious in the use of your syllables when you are writing a song. For some reason, songs seem to have around 7 syllables per line. Sometimes 6 or 8, but 7 seems to be the most common. You do not want to vary the number of syllables per line in a section too much. For example, if you start the chorus with 7 lines, don't switch between 7, 4, and 10. All of this will give you the smooth, lyrical sound that you want. Of course, there is a little bit of wiggle room in all this. If you follow all the rules too strictly your song will sound rigid, just a little bit too perfect. It is acceptable, in a section with 7 lines for example, to make one line have 6 or 8 syllables if it will make the song flow better.

Here are a couple of examples with songs of different section lengths. The number of syllables is indicated at the end of each line.

"My Hope is You"
Artist: Third Day
Album: Offerings

My hope is You 4
Show me Your ways 4
Guide me in truth 4
In all my days 4
My hope is You 4

OK, so the chorus of this song doesn't have 7 syllables per line. But it is very consistent--exactly 4 syllables in each line. Also, notice that is has an odd number of lines. It has four distict lines for the body of the chorus, with the first line repeated at the end. Next time you hear this song on the radio (unless you are fortunate enough to own this album), listen to the length of the lines in the verse compared to the lines in the chorus. The lines in the verse are quite a bit longer.

"Praise You in This Storm"
Artist: Casting Crowns
Album: Lifesong

And I will praise You in this storm 8
And I wil lift my hands 6
For you are who You are 6
No matter where I am 6
And ev'ry tear I've cried 6
You hold in Your hand 6
You never left my side 6
And though my heart is torn 6
I will praise You in this storm 7

This song is complex in a lot of ways. The chorus has predominantly 6 syllables per line, with two major exceptions--the first and last lines, which have more syllables. In the first line, the extra words are a matter of timing. Basically the lyrics begin at different times in relation to the drum beat, so that there are 7 words before the beat in the first line. The last line has 2 extra words because of what are called "pick-up notes" which is another issue of timing. Just like in "My Hope is You," the last line is a repeat of the first line. A smaller exception involves the number of syllables in the rest of the chorus. It is a little difficult to say that the rest of the chorus has 6 syllables per line because of the way it is sung--notes are extended, so that it sounds like there may be 7 syllables in some lines.

Got questions or comments? Let me know! I love to hear from you!

Tim Heider

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