Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Rhyme of Reason

Since the last few posts have been about influences and listening, this week we're going to get back into the nut's and bolts of writing, and I'm going to show you how I use internet tools to help with finding rhymes. You may not even need to purchase a rhyming dictionary!

First, let me say that there are rhymes that are over used and you need to avoid them at all costs. You know the ones: love/above/dove, heart/apart/start, girl/world, fire/desire/higher, together/ know the ones. Sometimes I like to play a game while listening to songs on the radio: if I've never heard the song, I try to predict the rhymes. Try it. I bet that most times you probably can. This can highlight just how many rhyme cliches there are.  Try to avoid them if you can help it.

Second, I am a believer in near rhymes and imperfect rhymes.  For one thing, as you will see, if you train yourself to all kinds of rhymes, perfect, imperfect and near, the palette of colors you have paint your world is dramatically increased.  You wouldn't want to try to paint something photo-realistic with only three crayons worth of rhymes, would you?

Third, I know it's tempting to use what I would call a "visual rhymes" these are when you have two word that look as if they are going to rhyme, but, in fact, have TOTALLY different vowel sounds. Examples: comb/womb, one/gone, main/again.  Don't do it. This is music. The sound is what matters.

Here's the website I use instead of using a rhyming dictionary:


As, you can see, there is a search bar,  and to the right of the search bar is a drop down menu with several options:

So, not only is this site useful for finding rhymes, but it also lets you search synonyms, antonyms, and Shakespeare! 

So I'll explain how I use this site with an example:

I'll use a song that I has been relegated to the junk pile for something like 10 years, so let's see if I can resurrect the first verse using better rhymes:

Here it is in its current (lame) state:

the leaves are changing color now                                              
the sky is turning grey                                                                    
school buses on the roadway now
and less light today
i woke up to an empty bed
walked through an empty house 
how will it feel when the snow starts
if it’s this cold here now?

OK. We have our work cut out for us.  We see that this song is about the Fall...Autumn. It's ok, but the images are kind of generic, and the rhymes are....uninspired.  This opening line kinda sucks, too, as far as opening lines go...maybe it should be changed. Also, the first line and the third line both end with "now." I'd rather that they rhyme. I would rather the rhyme scheme be this:


New opening line: the leaves are flaming red and gold.  To rhymezone, Batman! First, we look for "gold" rhymes:

So, as you can see, the people at rhymezone have done you a huge favor by making the most common words Blue Bold, the next most common words regular blue, and the uncommon words dimmed.  You can probably tell that I won't use voled  or noled in this song. Actually, if you get tired of seeing words that are no longer used in modern conversational American English, there is a box at the bottom of the page that you can check so that rare words will no longer appear in your search results.  

From this list, I'm going to eliminate "cold," because I'm going to use that word in the last line of this verse. It's sort of the "payoff" word in this verse, and I'd rather not tip my hand, if I can help it at all.  

I make make a rhyme list, usually in a google document, so it will always be retrievable, even if all my hard drives bite it at once:


There some ok things there, but let's use the drop down menu to find some near rhymes, to see if there is anything that might be a little more descrptive:

As is normally the case when using technology, sometimes they can't really give you what you want. So you have to treat it like a physical rhyming dictionary. Since the word "gold" ends in "old,"  it ends with a voiced alveolar plosive. The closest sound to the voiced alveolar plosive, of course, is the UNvoiced alveolar plosive. All that we're saying here, is that the "d" sound is made by making a sound with the vocal cords, while at the same time, putting your tongue to the alveolar plate inside the mouth. Then, you use the air inside your mouth to puff your tongue off the alveolar plate. The unvoiced version merely eliminates the sound from the vocal cords. Try it. When you stop voicing while you put your tongue to the plate, what sound do you make?

Right. A 't" sound is made. What that means is that we can also use words that end in an "olt" sound. Let's see what we get:

Now our rhyme list looks like this:

fold                bolt
hold               colt
old                 jolt
sold               volt
told                revolt

See? We have added more colors to our palette.  One more thing to do. There is another sound that is related to the voiced alveolar plosive: the voiced alveolar nasal.  The "n" sound. So, naturally, you'd be hard pressed to find a word in English that ends in "oln," so I have made the executive decision that "own" is good enough (it's my song!) .  So here's what we get when we search for rhymes for "own":

So here's the list now:

fold                bolt          cone         thrown       fibrous dysplasia of bone
hold               colt          flown         throne      
old                 jolt           drone        zone
sold               volt          groan        unknown
told                revolt       moan        postpone
controlled     blown      stone         alone

Now we have LOTS of things to play with. Resisting the temptation to use "fibrous dysplasia of bone," let's try some out:

The leaves are flaming red and gold
the sky is turning grey 
your summer dreams have been postponed
there's less light today

......nope....try again....

the leaves are flaming red and gold
the sky is turning grey
the flip flop shoes have all been sold
there's less light today


the leaves are flaming red and gold
the sky is turning grey
i'm standin at  the door alone
there's less light today 

not terrible, but I think the last line would have to change to make it work. Maybe I could flip them:

the leaves are flaming red and gold
there's less light today
i'm standing at the door alone
the sky is turning grey

I  like the grey better at the end of that section. It feels better in the "power" position. 

At any rate, That's sort of the process. Then I would do the same thing to get a decent word for the second line to rhyme with grey.  That being said...this song belongs in the junk pile as it is. It really still needs a huge overhaul, beginning with a decent opening line again and then going back through the rhyming process...but all is not lost! Even if it goes on the junk pile, I still got to exercise my rhyming and opening line muscles. So I learned a little more about what kind of rhymes I think I can get away with. All experience is valuable. And truthfully, the more difficult it is, the more you are learning. Just don't fool yourself into thinking that just because you FINISHED the difficult song idea you had, that makes it GOOD.  Keep your wits about you. 

My week:

A bit of object writing.
No poetry. :-(
Wrote a song and mostly recorded it. All that's left is to tweak the bass and drums...and re-record the vocals...
Jason Isbell
Townes Van Zandt
Mickey Newbury

Got back into contact with one of my  old college roommates...a freelance recording engineer. Maybe he can help me to not have sucky recordings!
NO JOB YET....I'm gonna have to start giving blood and selling organs, I think. 

''Til next week....try the rhymezone thing, see if you like it. 

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