Common Meter

I learned from Achewood that since this poem is in ballad meter, it can be sung to the tune of Gilligan's Island. Since then, try as I might, I haven't ONCE been able to read it normally.

The common meter, or ballad meter, is a poetic rhythm which is, naturally, very common. For the metrically inclined, it consists of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter (although, especially where hymns are concerned, "iambic" is not an absolute requirement). For those of us who only speak English, it consists of alternating lines of four and three stressed syllables. Abbreviated CM. There is also Common Meter Double (CMD), which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.

It's used in a number of well-known songs and poems, and as a result, you can swap the lyrics and tunes around, often to amusing effect. Some of the best One Song To The Tune Of Another rounds on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue have done this (others have deliberately chosen songs with completely different meters to make it more difficult).

Playing with common meter can have a variety of uses. Setting old lyrics to new music can revive a song and bring it back into popularity and use. On the other hand, this can also be done to mock an old song by setting it to a tune that's irreverent of the song's origins. Or it can be used as an affectionate parody of the old song.

Please note that this has nothing to do with songs that happen to be in the same tempo. For instance, it's a well-known and curious fact that LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" matches the Star Wars Cantina theme in the middle, as well as the Charleston (as seen here.) But this trope is about lyrics, which the Cantina theme and the Charleston don't really have. ("Party Rock Anthem"'s, amusingly, are in Inverted Common Meter, six beats followed by eight.) As such, this fact is cute trivia, but has nothing to do with this trope. Besides, songs being in the same tempo is a "People Sit on Chairs" thing.

Not to be confused with Common Time. A tune can scan to Common Meter, be in Common Time, neither, or both.


  • "Amazing Grace"
  • Gilligan's Island
  • "The House of the Rising Sun"
    • "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" has been sung to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun".
      • You'll find that on one of Bob Rivers' Christmas albums.
    • Gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded a version of "Amazing Grace" set to this tune. It works but some may find the Mood Dissonance confusing.
      • "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" is another hymn that has been sung to this tune, and it is similarly jarring when this is done.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Green Hills of Earth
  • "America The Beautiful"
  • "Semper Paratus", the marching song of the United States Coast Guard.
    • It has been demonstrated—probably from a safe distance—to Marines that their hymn, "From the Halls of Montezuma", can be sung to the "Gilligan's Island" theme.
    • Many military running cadences are in common meter.
  • Many Christmas carols, such as "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night", "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen".
  • "There Is a Green Hill Far Away"
  • "Yankee Doodle"
  • Lots of Emily Dickinson poems (e.g. "Because I Could Not Stop For Death")
    • It has been pointed out that any Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to the tune "The Yellow Rose of Texas."
      • It gets a mention in a fifth-season Babylon 5 episode.
      • Probably a Shout-Out to Sharyn McCrumb's (Bimbos of the Death Sun), Zombies of the Gene Pool. Where a Hillybilly Folk singer (with a PHD) mentions that he did exactly this to fool a visiting scholar.
  • Most of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Also Richard Lovelace's To Althea, from Prison. ("Stone walls do not a prison make / Nor iron bars a cage")
  • Hoedown!
    • Also, the music from Irish Drinking Song.
  • The Australian national anthem.
    • As is Working Class Man. Adam Hills once suggested that, to keep the anthem relevant, we keep the lyrics and sing them to the tune of Working Class Man. He then demonstrated. Awesomely.
  • Infamous Filk Song "Banned from Argo"; it's been noted how many songs scan to it.
  • "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing", one of many Charles Wesley hymns.
  • "The Little Snicket Lad" can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme.
    • This is especially funny given that the text explicitly notes that the song was mistakenly written to the tune of a well-known song about naval disaster. (aka "Row Row Row Your Boat")
  • "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
    • Also "The Yellow Rose", a country song by Johnny Lee and Lane Brody that swiped the melody from "The Yellow Rose of Texas".
  • The writer of the webcomic Everyday Heroes likes to start new chapters with a bit of allegedly humorous verse, done in Common Meter. Examples can be found here, here, here, and here.
  • "The Ballad of Jed Clampett"
  • "Ghost Riders in the Sky" is common meter double.
  • "Johnson's Motor Car"
  • Parts of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town" fit this meter ("You've painted up your lips and rolled in curls your tinted hair/Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?")
  • Several Child Ballads, including:
    • "Tam Lin"
    • "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" as performed by Tim Erikson
    • "Willie O Winsbury"
  • "Knoxville Girl," an American Murder Ballad
  • The verses of "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate" by The Arrogant Worms
  • The verses of "Sing For Me" by The Fiery Furnaces
  • "Two Kinds Of People" by The Magnetic Fields, albeit with an extra syllable on lines 2 and 4 of the first stanza.
  • Much of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" (more famously Covered Up by The Byrds) is in common meter.
  • "Old Polina"
  • "The Rising of the Moon"
  • "The Scotsman"
  • "Tight Fittin' Jeans" by Conway Twitty
  • "Joy to the World" and many of Isaac Watts' other psalm "translations".
  • The Pokémon theme. (Season one.)
  • Older Than Steam: The Scottish Psalter of 1650 sets the biblical Psalms to Common Metre.note  It's here. While the Scottish Psalter didn't invent Common Metre, it is the reason that it's considered "Common" — 149 of the 150 psalms (including Psalm 119, in 22 separate parts) are written in Common Metre.note  Poor scansion and Painful Rhyme are the natural result in many cases. The Psalter also had a wide variety of Common Metre tunes which could be used with any of the psalms; standard publishing practice for this and other metrical psalters, even today, is to divide the book in half horizontally, essentially binding two separate books together, the upper with music and the lower with the words.
  • The verses of "The Mummers Dance" by Loreena McKennitt.
  • "Oh Susanna"
  • All of the Sorting Hat's songs in Harry Potter.
  • "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Possibly one of the more amusing tunes to sing "Amazing Grace" to. (For maximum effectiveness, at the "wimoweh" parts, say "amazing grace" instead.)
  • "I Just Can't Wait to be King" from The Lion King.
  • "The Rains of Castamere" from A Song of Ice and Fire is metered this way, with a couple of anapaestic substitutions.
  • Emilie Autumn's "The Ballad of Mushroom Down" from Your Sugar Sits Untouched.
  • The verses of "Rocky" by Dickey Lee are common meter double.
  • "Beer Gut" and "Dear Mr. Governor" by Da Yoopers are both common meter double.
  • The Thunder Song from Ted.
  • "Queen of the Silver Dollar", written by Shel Silverstein and most famously recorded by Dave & Sugar, is in common meter double.
  • "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet)" by Tom T. Hall is almost common meter double, but the last line is only 10 syllables instead of 14.
  • "Last Dollar (Fly Away)" by Tim McGraw is common meter double on the verses.
  • This poem from Reddit's Poem_for_your_sprog.
  • "Every Second" by Collin Raye is common meter double on the verses.