Do songs have to rhyme?

One thing I think I’ve grown at during my songwriting career is my appreciation for the different forms lyrics can take. Lyrics are in many ways just poems set to music, and when most people think of poems, they think of structures ending in rhyming parts. These parts are pleasing to the ears, but are not required to write a successful poem–or in that case, a successful song.

When I wrote my first song I was eight years old. It was called “Sun is Shining,” and was pretty much what you would expect an 8-year-old to write. It went:

“Sun is shining,
trees are swaying
wind is blowing
flowers waving”

etc. I was so proud of myself for the way the lines sounded when sung together since they all ended in the ‘ing’ format. To 8-year-old me, lyrics could be written in one way, and one way only.

As I grew up, my lyrics got a little more complicated than talking about what I could see in the prairie outside my living room window. In middle school I wrote “Juliet in Me,” a song which my mother swears will never be replaced as her favorite piece of mine.

It began:

“Sitting in the darkness
in a princess dress
I felt like a girl people would fight for
but how am I supposed to act my part
when the only love I’m in is through Juliet’s heart
and my Romeo doesn’t even know my name”

Based on my musical theatre endeavors, this song was a venture into the world of lyrics where not EVERY line had to rhyme. I also employed rhymes/similar sounds within single lines of text for the first time: I.e. RomeO doesn’t even KNOW my name.

In college I got into the groove of using near rhymes–words that weren’t identical in their patterns, but exhibited the same vowel sounds and therefore sounded like they did rhyme when sung. One of the latest songs I wrote uses this technique in its chorus:

“I am a kid again
chasing fairytales and booking flights to places I’ve never been
Because life Isn’t long and we don’t know when it will end
and sometimes you can’t wait around for your prince to step in
oh I am a kid again”

Every word at the end of a line in this chorus is a near rhyme. AgAIN, bEEN, ENd, IN, and agAIN. If you spoke this chorus aloud, odds are you would catch the discrepancies in sound, but when sung over a background of musical instruments, it’s less obvious. This is due to the fact that vocalists tend to linger on vowels instead of consonants while singing, Since the vowel sounds in all of these words are very similar, as the vocalist lingers on them, the vowel becomes the most important part of each of these words and the rhyme scheme works.

This is the same technique I use in the song I am currently writing. It is a duet–featuring a male voice speak/singing a part over the bridge. Part of his lyrics go:

“I thought I saw you last night
Across the bar with some other guy
True, you were never mine
But when he held you tight
I said “I’m fine”; I lied
Can’t you see I’m crying”

This goes even one step further than the song about being a kid again. Not only does it use the same vowel sound at the end of every line, but it also sneaks it into the middle of lines here and there. In this case the sound I was looking for was the long “I” sound.

I thought I saw you last night
Across the bar with some other guy
True, you were never mine
But when he held you tight
I said “I’m fine”; I lied
Can’t you see I’m crying”

So, do songs HAVE to rhyme? No, of course they don’t. Is rhyme a good tool to use to make your lyrics easy to remember? For sure! However, there’s no ONE way to use rhyme. You can go the simple way with perfect rhymes, or dive into something a little more complex. To each their own!

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