Ballads

I’m not going to lie: I love ballads.

A lot.

Ballads are actually a lot of fun to write if you’re willing to spend the time on them. It is a lot of work, but mine usually turn out pretty well.

The structure of a ballad is this:

Iambic tetrameter
Iambic trimeter
Iambic tetrameter
Iambic trimeter

A
B
C
B

If you haven’t taken a lot of English classes, what you see above may be confusing and a little bit terrifying. It’s okay. Breathe.

Go listen to the Gilligan’s Island theme. Relax. Just do it. Trust me. It’s related.
(NOTE: My speakers weren’t working when I picked that video, so if the quality sucks, then please feel free to find a different copy of it.)

Now, what does an old T.V. show have to do with ballads?

Easy enough: The Gilligan’s Island theme song is a ballad. It has the precise structure and rhyme scheme of one.

So all you have to do is, as you’re writing, sing the words to your ballad to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme. If it doesn’t work or seems off in some way, then work on that part until it goes as smoothly as the song. It’s as easy as that. But it’s time-consuming. You’ll be singing your ballad over and over again until you get it right. And that’s okay. It’s pretty fun, actually.

For those of you more interested in what that mumbo-jumbo English-major jargon means:

An iamb is a pair of syllables. The first syllable is unstressed, and the second is stressed. The word “iamb” is an iamb. How convenient is that? I’m really terrible at talking about iambs, so please go read the Wikipedia page.

Tetrameter and trimeter are words that indicate how many pairs of syllables there are in a line of poetry. Tetrameter means there are four pairs, and trimeter means there are three. That means that there are eight syllables in tetrameter and six syllables in trimeter.

So the first line of a ballad has eight syllables. The second will have six. The third will have eight, and the fourth will have six. Every stanza is like this. It can go on as long or short as you please–there is no specified length of a ballad!

The rhyme scheme is what that ABCB thing is. In poetry, rhymes are labeled by letter. Look at the last word in each line of a poem to determine the rhyme scheme. The first one will always be “A.” Look at the second line of a poem. Does the last word rhyme with the last word of the first line? If so, then it is also “A.” If not, then it will be “B.” After that, look at the third line and do the same. If it rhymes with the line you labeled “A,” then label it “A,” too. If it rhymes with the “B” line, then it is also a “B” line. If it doesn’t rhyme with the first or second line, then it will be “C.” And so on.

A ballad has the rhyme scheme of ABCB. So the first and third lines rhyme with nothing else in the stanza. The second rhyme will rhyme with the fourth. Do that with all of your stanzas. You don’t have to rhyme the second stanza with the first one, so it would be more like ABCB DEFE GHIH and so on.

Pick a topic you like and write a ballad about it. 🙂

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