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From MAV:
Question from a struggling lyricist: In an ASCAP workshop I recently attended conducted by Stephen Schwartz, there was mention of 'struggling to make the rhymes work.' They gave examples where it was obvious the song didn't click because of awkward sentence structure and poor phrasing to create the rhymes. Is it best to outline the song in prose first giving structure to the piece before fitting in the 'real' lyrics?

Monday, 26 November 2001

Dear Mav,

Complicated question. First of all, I feel very strongly that in musical theatre legitimate rhymes are imperative, which is to say "dark" does not rhyme with "heart." In pop lyrics, there is a lot of easy, reckless rhyming which actually works just fine in that world because the effect there is meant to be casual, intimate. In the theatre, it's a bit like being a ballet dancer. You want to present virtuoso moves or rhymes and not flounder around with approximations. So that's my first rule of thumb. If I can't make a legitimate rhyme, I discard it and go for a different rhyme.

Secondly, Stephen Schwartz was very smart in showing you guys examples of phrases where the attempt to rhyme just created an awkward mess. My basic philosophy is: if the rhyme does not work naturally and effectively for the song, do not rhyme. Often in a ballad I will use the bare minimum of rhyming so that I know I have the freedom to say what needs to be said emotionally. I actually think that with an emotional song, it's not a bad idea at all to first write out in prose what it is you want to say. Often just the process of doing this will provide you with your title or your key phrase when you go back and read it over. The worst thing you can do with a ballad is to start with clever rhymes and then try to make an emotion fit into that structure. It just doesn't work.

In essence, always make rhyme secondary to what the message of the song is and never rhyme unless it's a good, legitimate rhyme.

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