Adding rhythm to a poem enables you to begin the process of setting the poem to music. Whether you want to create a rhythmic backdrop to help enhance the pulse of the music or you wish to set the foundation for turning the poem into a song, there are techniques that will allow you to set the poem to specific rhythms.
Stressed and Unstressed
In poetry, a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables create different types of meter. Some meters create simple and short phrases while others create more complex phrases. Learning to recognize stressed and unstressed syllables will make it possible to apply rhythm in an intelligent and appropriate manner. Take the word "ample," as an example. The first part of the word becomes stressed while the second part is relatively unstressed. For instance, we say AM-ple and not am-PLE. This puts the stress on the first part and not the second part of the syllable. The combination of one stressed and one unstressed syllable is called a foot.
Monometer does not appear often in poetry because of its overly simple nature. For instance, using just a single set of stressed and unstressed syllables allows only the use one or two short words. For instance, "can eat" or "candy" both illustrate examples of monometer. Dimeter involves the combination of two feet. "Breaking the mold" is an example of dimeter. Forming other types of meters in poetry is also possible; you can have groups of three feet, four, five, six and even seven and higher.
Additional Metric Forms
There are several ways to change the rhythm of the poem. Some syllables may have a stronger accent than others; you may even have a waltz rhythm, in which one out of every three syllables is accented heavily. For instance, the phrase "go to the" may be interpreted with one stressed followed by two unstressed syllables. The second step involves going through the poem again and placing lines over all of the syllables that sound appealing when they are stressed. Once you determine the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, you can move on to adding percussion to the poem.
Using a simple hand drum, cymbal or even your own hands to clap the rhythm, accent the syllables that are stressed by creating a louder attack on the stressed syllables and a silent, or less harsh attack on the unstressed syllables. You don't even need to be able to read music to do this. Simply keep the poem in front of you and practice playing along with the spoken poem. Whenever a stressed syllable appears, create a stronger attack. Reserve the lighter attacks for the unstressed syllable.