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Working Backwards From The Rhyme Can Unlock Your Song

Instead of working from the beginning of the line and discovering the rhyme at the end, as I often do, I sometimes ‘work backwards from the rhyme’. It can be very helpful.

It’s usually most helpful when I haven’t yet got a fix on what I want to say in the Verses; I haven’t yet found my way in.

Let’s say I have a line that works in the song and I want to rhyme with it (I’m just making up the following lines as I go). Here’s the line:

At first I didn’t know what to expect

If I’ve got a handle on the lyric I’ll probably have some idea of what I want to say in the next rhyming line, and a rhyme will often suggest itself. But that’s less likely to happen if I’m still fishing for my storyline, situation, or concept.

If I’m at that point I might grab some kind of rhyming dictionary – hard copy, online, or app – and start going through the list of rhymes (perfect and/or not-so, depending on the song).

Now obviously this will help me find a rhyme. But that’s not all I’m looking for. I’m looking for help focusing the song.

So I pick out the rhymes that resonate the most with what I feel the song is… or, even better, what it could be. Doing this right now, as I write, I immediately find these 5 rhymes, which I probably wouldn’t’ve thought of on my own –

architect
circumspect
dialect
disinfect
genuflect

These not only rhyme with expect, they have the potential to take the song in an unpredictable direction that could help define it:

At first I didn’t know what to expect
Could somebody like you respect and understand my dialect

At first I didn’t know what to expect
But when I saw you there my inclination was to genuflect

At first I didn’t know what to expect
I was like a wrecking ball and you were like an architect

Not awesome lyrics, but you get the point. All the ideas in the second lines were generated by working backwards from the rhyme word and trying to think of interesting and fitting ways to get there (in this case, within a few minutes!).

The unexpected (to me) rhymes drive the new line in a direction that I didn’t anticipate. That has the potential to drive the entire song, or at least the next lines, in a direction I didn’t anticipate. And, most importantly, to help me establish, or further define, a distinctive direction, angle, point of view, or voice, for the song.

All from one little rhyme.

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts, additions, disagreements in the Comments section below:

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