Feet and Metres

Here is an idea I'd like to try out at the Impro Gym to explore a rhythmic approach to language. I am posting it here on CPD for Teachers because I'd also like to try and get this stuff into schools.   I've only discovered recently, through reading the excellent Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth, the Iamb, Trochee, Dactyl etc. Either they were never mentioned in my education - or I'd already switched off.

Anyway, back to the game idea...

First of all, we need to define what we're working with:


The feet are the units of poetry, patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. The most useful ones are:

Iamb: Te TUM
Trochee: TUM te
Dactyl: TUM te te
Anapest: Te te TUM


The metres are how many times the feet are repeated:

Trimeter: Three times
Tetrameter: Four times
Pentameter: Five times

Lots of people seem to have heard of the Iambic Pentameter (five Iambs in a row) because it was Shakespeare's favourite:

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

This game will no doubt help with your cod Shakespeare, but it's also about exploring the quirkiness of less 'grand' sounding metres.

Exercise One - Three-Line Scenes (Nonsense)

Players face each other in two lines.  Each player's metre is determined by 'audience' suggestion. Pairs step forward and do a three line scene.

First time round, there are no words, just the rhythms.  For example, Dave has Iambic Trimeter and Sue has Dactylic Tetrameter.

Dave: te TUM te TUM te TUM
Sue: TUM te te TUM te te TUM te te TUM te te
Dave: te TUM te TUM te TUM

Loop these around the pairs, sticking with the same patterns but moving the scenes on each time, still in nonsense, getting used to the rhythms.  The metrical restrictions instantly give the characters, er, character.  You could add an emotion too if you like, but there's probably no need because the feet seem to have emotion baked in, eg  trochees are are kind of angry already.

Exercise Two - Three-Line Scenes with Words

With each player in each pair keeping the same metre, now repeat the exercise, this time adding words.  You can always fall back on Te TUM if you can't think of anything.

(Off the top of my head):

Dave: The time for us has come
Sarah: Carefully now with the cauldron of vinegar
Dave: Te TUM te TUM I know

You can also use repetition for a very effective cheat that would, nine times out of ten, seem intentional:

I know, I know, I know!

The restrictions could be dropped into any game or used as a way of 'preloading' character.

I think it would lead to some subtle scenes off the beaten track - and dialogue that sounds very odd but very natural at the same time.

I look foward to a game of metered speed village!