Rhyme Schemes – The Technique All Songwriters Should Master

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

158099707_cff06ea269_bEvery songwriter knows that “rhyme” is a big deal. And it seems so simple — make your songs rhyme. But there is danger on the tracks, especially for beginning songwriters who don’t think about the overall structure of their songs at the beginning.

Let’s look at the most popular “rhyme schemes” in modern songs. A rhyme scheme is the pattern of end rhymes in your song (rhymes that occur at the end of your lines). We show this pattern by creating diagrams based on the alphabet.

To create a rhyme scheme diagram for a verse, label the first line “A.” Then label every line that rhymes with that first line with an “A.” Label the next non-rhyming line with a “B.” Then assign the letter “B” to every other line that rhymes with it. If this seems confusing, don’t worry. You’ll see the pattern when we begin to look at sample verses, below.

We create song diagrams to discover inconsistent rhyme schemes, so we can make them consistent. This is because when we begin a song, we make certain promises to the congregation (we could consider it a contract). In this case, the promise is:

Whatever end-rhyme pattern we establish in the first verse will remain through subsequent verses.

Let’s look at the three most popular rhyme schemes:

ABAB (and its variant, ABCB)

Early English hymnwriters often wrote in a rhyme scheme called “ABAB.” Augustus M. Toplady used the ABAB rhyme scheme in “A Debtor To Mercy Alone.” Watch:

“The terrors of law and of God (A)
With me can have nothing to do; (B)
My Savior’s obedience and blood (A)
Hide all my transgressions from view.” (B)

He rhymes “God/blood” on lines 1 and 3, and “do/view” on lines 2 and 4. This is a tight rhyme scheme. ABAB songs are often fun to sing and easy to remember.

ABCB is a popular variation of ABAB. It gives the writer a little more freedom to concentrate on things like plot and theme instead of being too beholden to rhyme, but it still provides rhyme where our ears most expect it – on the even-numbered lines.

Contemporary ABCB songs include “Forever Reign” by Jason Ingram and Reuben Morgan, “You Are My King (Amazing Love)” by Billy James Foote, and “Beneath The Waters (I Will Rise)” by Scott and Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood. Let’s diagram the first verse of “Beneath The Waters (I Will Rise):

“This is my revelation (A)
Christ Jesus crucified (B)
Salvation through repentance (C)
At the cross on which He died” (B)

Unlike the ABAB rhyme scheme, lines one and three don’t rhyme here (revelation/repentance). But note that “revelation” rhymes with “salvation,” the first word of line three. So we have a nice instance of internal rhyme (rhymes that occur within the body of your verse, rather than at the end of your lines).

Still, less-experienced songwriters than Brooke and Scott Ligertwood might have thought “We need to revise our third line so it rhymes at the end with revelation. Let’s change the third line to:

“Repentance leads to salvation”

This would have given them a “perfect” ABAB scheme, but what a clunker.


AABB is the easiest scheme for beginners to write. When a poet ends his first line, it feels natural to immediately find a word that will end the next line with a rhyme.

The problem is that this can encourage writers to put too much emphasis on rhyming and not enough on developing a sustained thought across multiple lines. This can lead to songs that are more like a series of individual two-line platitudes than a compelling narrative or exposition. Nevertheless, many great hymns of the faith use AABB well. See Charles Wesley’s classic Christmas carol:

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (A)
Glory to the newborn King (A)
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, (B)
God and sinner reconciled” (B)

Many contemporary praise songs use this scheme well, too, including “Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)” by Paul Baloche and Brenton Brown, and “Our God” by Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Jesse Reeves and Chris Tomlin.

When Tomlin and Louie Giglio adapted John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” into “Amazing Grace (Chains Are Gone)” they kept Newton’s ABAB rhyme scheme in the verses. But they switched to AABB in their chorus:

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace”

Did they “break contract” with us? No – although you should use the same rhyme scheme in your verses, you can switch to a different scheme for your chorus and bridge. In fact, doing so may help you distinguish those elements of your song. Most contemporary songs use different rhyme schemes for the distinct elements of their songs (verse-chorus-bridge).

Diagram your own songs. Not only may you discover inconsistent rhyme schemes, you may find out that you rely too much on one or two rhyme schemes. If so, give yourself assignments to write songs in alternate rhyme schemes. Doing so will help you avoid creative dry spells. And it may just give you your best song yet.

Top photo used via Creative Commons license

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