Let’s Talk About Slant Rhymes

You ask any arranger and chances are they will tell you when setting music to lyrics it’s important to give the words room to breath, creating space for them to rise, fall, and be accentuated during important moments.

I see a striking similarity there to using pure rhymes to ensure that stanzas land properly.

In the past when performances were unamplified it was up to the singer to utilize a technique which properly carried the voice to everyone in the theater. This combined with giving room for the lyrics to breath and using pure rhymes made it as unlikely as possible for things to be misheard.

If you go to a show and you miss a word, possibly an important one, you can’t just rewind and hear it again. The word is gone.

Some people may think “Well, this isn’t staged so what does it matter?” But generally speaking why wouldn’t you want to have your lyrics land in the most precise way possible?

The best way I could describe slant rhymes would be working on a jigsaw puzzle and forcing in a piece that doesn’t quite fit. Especially if all the other pieces are properly placed. You made it work, sort of.

And this is coming from more of an understated lyric writer, I hold very little importance on being clever with rhymes. I’m content in rhyming day and may if the lines put together say exactly what needs to be said. Personally I feel that the rhymes are holders of content, in the same way gift wrap is the holder of the content.

But if you were wrapping a gift for someone you cared dearly about you wouldn’t just haphazardly cover it, you’d spend some time making sure it’s neat and tidy and then put a pretty little bow on top. People can sense care.

This all goes back to restricting yourself. I feel its important to decide what world you are writing in as you start. Know if you will be implementing slant rhymes or not. You can make something nice either way but don’t get to your second refrain and then decide “Well, I cant think of anything that rhymes and works in context so ill just rhyme thumb with run”. Gross.

There are many good lyric writers, especially in commercial music, that make regular use of slant rhymes, and even I do it on occasion when I’m writing a lyric far removed from theater. But I would err on the side of caution, realize when and why you are doing it.

A few quick additions.

1.Something I fall prey to but I feel is best to avoid when possible would be identical rhyme, using the same word in order to rhyme. Unless you are using the repetition to create an impact or setting up impact by drilling something in, so as to increase the importance of a new word when it does change. OR! You are using a homonym (Homophones can be grouped in this as it’s irrelevant what the word is spelled as, lyrics aren’t read, they are not poetry.

2.I’m not sure if there is a term for the following but I’m going to call it a second degree slant rhyme.

Lets say we have a quatrain with an ABAB structure, I always try to avoid having the B rhyme as something that could be misconstrued as a slant rhyme with A. It’s like when you say something to a person that could be taken the wrong way until you finish everything you’re going to say. For a few seconds you’re thinking “Wait! What you’re thinking isn’t at all what I mean, you’ll understand once I’m finished this sentence!” It causes undue stress on the ear.

3.Something incredibly fun and rewarding when writing for specific people is being able to play with diction to create pure rhymes.

This should include the very important caveat that once diction is chosen it would be a massive inconsistency to change it because you have another rhyme that works well with the traditional pronunciation. People don’t just change their diction. Its a bit like breaking the fourth wall.

Putting the puzzle together is what makes lyric writing so rewarding. Try to make sure the pieces fit.

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