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This is something I mostly associate with nursery rhymes and songs that use a specific melody repeated over and over.

An example, from a version of London Bridge Is Falling Down:

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

is later repeated over the same melody as

Build it up with iron and steel,
Iron and steel, iron and steel,
Build it up with iron and steel,
My fair lady.

Now, the change from a monosyllabic word such as wood to a two-syllable i-ron, makes the verses longer, and as all the other pieces of the verse stays in their rhythmical places, the longer word is sung as a duplication of the same note, like a quarter note becoming two eighths.

It can also work with two extra syllables working as a triplet, or in the other direction (a verse becoming shorter losing syllables).

I know this is part of prosody, "the way the composer sets the text of a vocal composition in the assignment of syllables to notes in the melody to which the text is sung", but I can't find if there's a proper name or research around this particular variation.

Any help? :)

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Yes this sort of thing happens. Sometimes it's notated, sometimes the singer is left to sort it out for themselves - hymn tunes are notorious for throwing up this sort of challenge, particularly when subsequent verses barely fit the metrical structure of the melody! Here's one that has several potential mess-ups. Even if the congregation negotiates the phantom anacrusis, 'very God' is waiting to trip them up

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I've never seen any particular term used for this, other than a plain English description such as 'alternative rhythm'.

Your example 'wood and clay' vs 'iron and steel' is an interesting one. As the Cockney music-hall song illustrates, 'iron' can have one or two syllables. And Italian lyrics are full of contracted words.

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  • Right, hymns are another great source of this thing. If "iron" can somehow pass as a monosyllabic word, slurring it as Any Old Iron does, that version of London Bridge still doubled it down later using "silver and gold", and it's kinda harder to contract it in "silv'r", isn't it? – Kinkin May 29 '20 at 12:58

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