Metric Structure

The metric structure of your words can be iambic pentameter, anapest, or trochaic tetrameter, to name a few. This page is to give you an understanding of the concepts involved in the structure of poetic words.

‘Iambic Pentameter’ is a rhythm that is measured in small groups of syllables called feet. Iambic is the type of foot used when there is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. "_ ___"
Pentameter means that a line has five feet.

From ancient times different languages have expressed the rhythm of the metric structure differently.

Ancient Greek and Latin created rhythm by alternating short and long syllables. In English the alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables gave us the iambic pentameter metric structure. The stressed syllable is equivalent to a classical long syllable whereas the unstressed syllable is equivalent to a classical short syllable.

A pair of iambic syllables is called tra-PEZE with the emphasis on the second syllable: __ ____ __ ____.

William Shakespeare used this type of structure in his writing of plays and sonnets. He purposely used a weak ending, called feminine ending, (although today it would not be politically correct) in one of his most famous lines of iambic pentameter: “To be or not to be, That is the ques-tion”

“__ ____ __ ____ __ _____ _____ __ __ _____ __”

Other types of poetic feet are often used in certain instances. An extra syllable in the final foot is known as an anapest __ __ _____. It is also known as an elision.

Words with different rhythms are often chosen for interest with strong and weak syllables of vocal expression.

The tetrameter, also called four-beat, strong-stress, native meter or four by four meter is used for nursery rhymes, folk songs, and ballads. It has four beats to a line. Many songs and almost all jazz music are four-beat. Sometimes trochaic inversion is used to give emphasis to the first syllable. It has a line of four trochaic feet: a long syllable, or stressed syllable, followed by a short, or unstressed one.

“____ __ ____ __ ____ __ ____ __”

An example of this meter is in an excerpt from “Hiawatha’s Childhood”

By the shores of Git,-che Gu-mee,
By the shi-ning Big Sea Water,
Stood the wig-wam of No-ko-mis
Daugh-ter of the Moon, No-ko-mis.

There is a form of trochaic tetrameter called the kalevala where syllables in a foot are strong, weak and neutral or where a long vowel ends in a consonant.

Neutral syllables can occur at any position whereas the first foot has a freer structure that allows strong syllables to be in a falling position of the voice and weak syllables in a rising position.

For example: “You are the wind beneath my wings.”

“__ __ __ ____ __ ____ __ ____”


Here comes the fun part, marrying your words with your music. In other words think of the meter of your words when writing your songs. Which words or syllables have emphasis and which do not? Are your words iambic pentameter, kalevala or four by four tetrameter?

Once you know and experience the metric structure in your poetry you will be able to combine them with the meter of the music when writing your notes on music staff paper.

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