3.2 Analyze the Rhythm of a Silly Sentence

For practice, take the following sentence: “Investigate the trailer till it delivers up its secrets.” Who knows why the trailer is hiding things, or why you need to discover them, but you evidently do. Now, this sentence has the following stress pattern:

. ,  . ,    .   ,    .  ,    ,  . , .    ,  .   ,  .
Investigate the trailer till it delivers up its secrets

That’s a pretty good alternating pattern of short and long syllables, which might make us wonder what it would look like if we wrote it out using our rhythm notation.

+    1    +    +    2    +    +    3    +    +
/    /    –    /    /    –    /    /    –    /
In-  ves-      ti-  gate      the  trai-     ler
     4    +    +    5    +    +    6    +    + 
     /    –    –    /    –    /    /    –    /
     till           it        de-  li-       vers
     7    +    +    8    +    +    9
     /    –    /    /    –    /
     up        its  se-       crets.

If we do this, however, we notice a problem in beat 4. The rest of the sentence has a consistent rhythm, with syllables landing either on the downbeat, or right before it. But beat 4 has to be stretched out because the emphasis in “deliver” is on the second syllable, not the first.

     4    +    +    5    +    +    6    +    + 
     /    –    –    /    –    /    /    –    /
     till           it        de-  li-       vers

But if we follow the normal pattern in the other beats, “it” would fall on the second “+” of beat 4.

     4    +    +    5    +    +    6    +    +
     /    –    /    /    –    /    /
     till      it   de-       li-  vers

That’s fine by itself, but it force the “de-” onto the downbeat of beat 5. And that would emphasize the first syllable of “deliver,” forcing it to be long. But we don’t say, “deliver.” We say, “deliver.” So, we fix it by making the “till” and “it” both long, which allows the “de-” to be short and the “-li-” to be long.

     4    +    +    5    +    +    6    +    + 
     /    –    –    /    –    /    /    –    /
     till           it        de-  li-       vers

But still, this is an ugly solution. If you wanted to use the line, “Investigate the trailer till it delivers up its secrets,” in a song, you would probably need to rewrite the line as: “Investigate the trailer till it tells you all it secrets.” It says the same thing as the original, but now the rhythm is consistent. Or, try this one: “Investigate the trailer till it tells you every tale.” This is even better, rhythmically speaking, because (a) it doesn’t leave “ crets” hanging out there awkwardly at the end of the pattern and (b) it increases the alliteration.

But we’ll talk about actually writing and rewriting lyrics in coming chapters.

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