Craft & Culture Poetry

Remembering rhymes

Adam 'Shuffle T' Woollard explains how you can learn how to remember the first 100 digits of pi in no time at all - all while spicing up your battle rapping skills.

What does Emirates Stadium have to do with the suffragette movement? What’s the link between Fibonacci and the romantic hero in Pride and Prejudice? How do you get from smoked paprika to one of the most famous portraits ever painted? The answer to all of these questions is through rhyme.

Rhyming has evolved over the years and we are largely behind the times. With the introduction of rap music and its own developments through the ages, we have seen rhyme go from an objective constant to something much more malleable. Rhyme is no longer perfect. It is more complex, cleverer, and more beautiful than ever.

My name is Adam Woollard, but I have performed as a battle rapper under the name Shuffle T for 7 years. In that time I have performed around the world, met people of great influence and have become one part of the 2on2 battle rap UK champions. The main thing I’m known for in this sphere is my insane obsession with rhyming.

Rhyme isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days where we solely looked to rhymes such as ‘cat’, ‘mat’, ‘flat’, ‘hat’, with the help of rap, we’re beyond all that. Rappers, modern poets (especially in the spoken word world) are using what we call ‘multisyllabic rhymes’ or ‘multis’. This type of rhyme is an extension of traditional rhyming techniques that plays with rhythm, relevance and makes the rhymes themselves sound much more rounded. This is done by rhyming longer words or phrases, terms or names than just one syllable at the end of the sentence. We rhyme multiple syllables in a row, focusing mostly on the assonance, rather than the consonance.

For example, in the first paragraph I asked what links the suffragette movement and Emirates Stadium. Well, let’s look at that. When we say ‘Emirates Stadium’ there are 2 syllables that particularly stand out more than the others, the first and the fourth: the stressed syllables: EMirates STAdium. These are the syllables we’ll be most interested in rhyming because there is more emphasis put into them when we naturally say the name. You wouldn’t say ‘emiRATES staDIum’ because you’d sound mental. So. EMirates STAdium it is. We want to rhyme this with something that has the same number of syllables, in this case 6, that has the same ‘stress pattern’: the 1st and 4th syllable stressed, where those stressed syllables share the same assonance (the EH sound in the 1st syllable and the A sound in the 4th). Sound tricky? It kind of is. But you do get used to it quickly… here are a couple of examples of what you would be able to get from this.

EMirates STAdium



And… EMily DAVison.

And that’s what Emirates Stadium has to do with the Suffragette movement (the other riddles from the first paragraph: Fibonacci and Mr Darcy. Smoked Paprika and Mona Lisa (as long as you say pap-REE-ka and not PAP-ri-ka… accents can make this type of rhyming even more difficult…)).

Now… This type of multisyllabic rhyme can be tricky to get your head around and god knows I’ve been sat down for hours trying to think of rhymes for ‘phone number’ (bone structure) or ‘Lotus flower’ (Schopenhauer) to practically no avail because it is difficult. But when you get into it, it becomes something worse than difficult: addictive. Painfully addictive. This type of rhyme is practically all I think about. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing…

Last year I had a thought: mnemonics. Mnemonics almost seem old hat now or useless, outmoded. Especially in a world where we have such easy and quick access to information, why bother trying to remember things when you can just Google it? When I think back to my early experience of mnemonics, it was My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pints for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Great. Very helpful. But how would it feel to put mnemonics on steroids, send them to the gym five days a week and have them be your personal bodyguard? Surreal? Fair enough.

With this type of multisyllabic rhyme we can use the entirety of the word, phrase, name or number we want to remember to rhyme, with something else in its entirety, so that the mnemonic ‘clue’ is less of a hint and more a look at the answer sheet. To use a previous example, I always used to forget the name Emily Davison, until I looked at the word and a rhyme appeared in my head. From that moment on, whenever I am called upon to remember that name, my mind shoots to the rhyme which pinball-knocks it over to the name. And the same with Tippi Hedren, the actress from The Birds, with ‘Smith and Wesson’. Edith Cavell with ‘Keenan and Kel’. All of these names I didn’t know can now be safely stored next to their rhyming counterparts, because by stapling information we don’t know to information we do know, we can anchor that new data. All we’re doing is translating data into images or sounds we are already familiar with.

That’s also how I learned 100 digits of pi in practically no time at all. I didn’t need to remember ‘3.141’ because I already knew that’s how it started (not to brag, I’m just incredible), so I started with the next part, grouping all the numbers into groups of 2 digits so that there are only 50 pieces of data to memorise, not 100: 59. Fifty nine. I analysed the letters and the syllables and the words and clocked that fifty nine rhymes with ‘fishing line’, making sure to start the rhyme with an ‘F’ (Fishing) so I knew it was fifty nine, not sixty nine, ending with an ‘N’ (liNE) sound so I remembered it was fifty nine, not fifty five, as the assonance sounds quite similar (this rarely is a problem). So now I have an image in my head of myself with a fishing line. The next two digits: 26. Twenty six: Jelly fish. Now on the end of my fishing line is a jelly fish. 53. Fifty three: Figurine, again, an object beginning with an ‘F’ to remind me it’s fifty, not sixty. So, I’m fishing on my fishing line, catch a jelly fish and an action man figurine hangs off its tentacle things. That simple image is very easy to remember, but through the power of rhymes, we’ve remembered 3 sets of data: 59, 26, 53. Six digits in no time. I use this for phone numbers, for addresses, for lines I need to remember, for everything that I need a safeguard for.

The reason I think this works so well is because your brain is making several connections at once. Not only are you making a rhyme with something you’re familiar with as an anchor, but the way that your brain has to engage with the word on a granular level in order to create or ‘clock’ the rhyme that goes along with it, means that there are two separate neural pathways being created: one that has engaged with the word down to the syllables and letters and stuck it in there tightly, and one that has created a rhyme to knock you into the right direction should it escape your immediate grasp. What that first pathway means is that the word, name, construct, number that was originally foreign to you is now something that you have engaged with on an almost molecular level, so of course you’re going to be better at remembering it from now on. And if you don’t immediately recall it, there’s the rhyme for you to knock you back on track. This consistently works effectively.

This is just one way that multisyllabic rhymes can help us to engage with our language in a much more complex way than traditional rhyme would ever be capable of. This is how we can bring mnemonics into the 21st century in a way that isn’t one learned universal memory technique, but rather a unique, personal set of codes that students, academics, anybody can create and engage with, that works. The future of rhyme is immense and inevitable. We need to recognise it more and get it into academia, because it will run away from us if we’re not careful. This is what my Advanced Rhyming Dictionary is trying to do. Take the traditional rhyming dictionaries of the past that feel so fusty and out-dated now, and bring them into the future, replacing the bowler hat with a shoulder tat. My book is full with over 600 multisyllabic rhyme schemes that use pop-culture references, rap terminology, phrases, names, places, things that you will actually use as a writer of rap, poetry, songs, anything. Not obscure medical terms from the late 19th century. This is the future of rhymes. You must remember to rhyme. There is a reason it’s lasted so long.

And, to see us out, some of my favourite multisyllabic rhymes. Say them out loud, I promise you it’s fun.

Danny DyerCarrie FisherArctic hareCarefreeAtlantic Ocean
Taxi DriverGary GlitterCar repairBare feetGabby Logan
Rapid fireJack the RipperHarsh but fairSpare keyChadwick Boseman
Maris PiperAction figureArmpit hairRare meatGas explosion
Magner’s CiderAston VillaCharley BearHair-pieceTanning lotion
Camel spiderCaterpillarBerkeley SquarePrayer beadsAt the moment
AppetiserBrandy snifterBarber’s chairAirstreamMagic potion
Ankle-biterHare KrishnaMarket sharePear treeAndrew Motion
For more awesome multi-syllabic rhymes, check out Adam’s Advanced Rhyming Dictionary.

About the author of this post

Adam ‘Shuffle T’ Woollard is one of the most watched battle rappers in the UK and has performed in the US, Canada, Australia and all over Europe. His book, The Advanced Rhyming Dictionary, represents the culmination of more than seven years of work. It is the first of its kind and is a compendium of two and three syllable multisyllabic rhyme schemes aimed at rappers, poets, educators and academics. Check it out (and buy it now) online.

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