3.4 Application with Abe Lincoln

Now, let’s work on some phrases, using the seven rules in the previous post. How about: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation”? Rule #1 says that all multi-syllable words have their own stress pattern, which we should not change. In the sentence above, those words are, “seven,” “ago,” “fathers,” “upon,” “continent,” and “nation.”  Let’s start by filling in their stresses

?    ?     ?   , .   ?     .,  ?   , .     ?       ?
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, 
.,   ?    ,  . .     ? ?   , .
upon this continent, a new nation

The words “four,” “score,” “and,” “years,” “our,” “brought,” “forth,” “this,” “a” and “new” are all single syllable. According to Rule #2, this means they can either be stressed or unstressed. According to Rule #3, however, we have to stress “four.”

,    ?     ?   , .   ?     .,  ?   , .     ?       ?
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, 
.,   ?    ,  . .     ? ?   , .
upon this continent, a new nation

Rule #4 says to try to alternate stressed and unstressed syllables. “Seven” is preceded by “and,” so “and” should be short. “Ago” is preceded by “years,” so “years” should be long. “Fathers” is preceded by “our,” should “our” should be short. “Upon” is preceded by “forth,” so “forth” should be long. “Continent” is preceded by “this,” so “this” should be short. “Nation,” finally, is preceded by “new,” but “new” is an adjective, so Rule #5 says we should stress it.

,    ?     .   , .   ,     .,  .   , .     ?       ,
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, 
.,   .    ,  . .     ? ,   , .
upon this continent, a new nation

Finally, Rule #6 says that if you have two unstressed syllables in a row after a stressed syllable, it sounds like all three belong to the same word. That means we need to make “score” and “brought” stressed.

,    ,     .   , .   ,     .,  .   , .     ,       ,
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, 
.,   .    ,  . .     ? ,   , .
upon this continent, a new nation

But what about the “a” there toward the end? If we make it unstressed, it will sound like it belongs with “continent.” But if we make it stressed, we’ll have three stressed syllables in a row, which is very odd. The solution, I believe, is to make the “-nent” in “continent” stressed, following the exception in Rule #1. This will allow us to make the “a” unstressed.

,    ,     .   , .   ,     .,  .   , .     ,       ,
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, 
.,   .    ,  . ,     . ,   , .
upon this continent, a new nation

Spelling out the stresses in terms of length, we would have to put each stressed syllable on a downbeat. That would give us (in a compound meter):

1    +    +    2    +    +    3    +    +      
Four –    –    score-    and  se   –    ven 
4    +    +    5    +    +    6    +    +    
years-    a    go   –    our  fa   –    thers
7    +    +    8    +    +    9    +    +    
Brought   –    forth-    u    pon  –    this
10   +    +    11   +    +    
con  –    tin  nent –    a   
12   +    +    13   +    +    14
new  –    –    na   –    tion

Or, more briefly, if one were just tapping out the rhythm:

1  +  +  2  +  +  3  +  +  4  +  +  5  +  +  6  +  +       
/  –  –  /  –  /  /  –  /  /  –  /  /  –  /  /  –  /
7  +  +  8  +  +  9  +  +  10 +  +  11 +  +    
/  –  –  /  –  /  /  –  /  /  –  /  /  –  /
12 +  +  13 +  +  14
/  –  –  /  –  /

Notice how the phrase essentially divides into three parts, based around the three long syllable pairs: “Four score,” “brought forth,” and “new na-.” The first section has six beats, the second has five, and the last has two. Furthermore, the first two sets of long syllables essentially rhyme: “Four score” and “brought forth.” The last set does not rhyme, and starts a beat too early. It should come on beat 13, but instead starts on 12, cutting the second section a beat short.

If I were going to turn this opening of the Gettysburg Address into song lyrics, I’d probably want to put them to a 3/4 time signature melody (that is, a melody with three beats per measure). The only challenge for this, however, would be the fact that the pair of long syllables in beats 12 and 13 seems to show up early. This might not be a problem, even with a consistent 3/4 time signature, depending on how things turned out. Alternatively, it might be an opportunity to treat one measure as being 2/4, which would be useful in styles (like hardcore) that often change time signatures.

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Featured image by Rachel Bostwick

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