The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






March (music)

This article is about music. For military marching, see Parade (military).

March music is a form of classical music or genre of music originally written for and performed by military bands.

Note: this topic is a general overview of march music. For information on different styles of march music, please see See Also at the bottom of the page.


The true "march music era" existed from 1850 to 1930 as it slowly became shadowed by the coming of jazz. Earlier marches, such as the ones from Ludwig Van Beethoven, Wolfgang Mozart, and George Frideric Handel tended to be part of a symphony or a movement in a suite. Despite the age of these marches and the history it holds, they were not the start of march music. It is said that march music truly began before the Gunpowder Age during which armies would maintain their troops' morale by marching with music playing, whether that be from the beat of a drum or bagpipe. American march music showed during the Revolutionary War and earlier wartime conflicts, in which a fife and snare drum would play while the troops marched to battle. This is why it can be said that march music is a military's music.

The march music form

Most marches follow a fairly strict structure. They always have two beats per measure, and thus are written in either cut time (2/2), 2/4 or (if a triplet feel is desired) fast 6/8 played two beats to the measure.

The tempo of a march is suprisingly varied. While most bands perform marches in their own tempo, most marches are quick (faster than a waltz, as fast or slower than a polka). As alluded to before, most march composers did not designate a specific tempo on their manuscripts. However, that is not to say the march music composer is random with his/her tempo while conducting the march. For example, John Philip Sousa conducted his marches using around 120 beats per minute. Most European march composers, however, conducted their marches in a slower style, using around 100 beats per minute. While fairly accurate, obviously there are some spoilers in this analogy. See concert march and screamer.

In order for a a piece of music to be classified as a march, it must have distictly different sections:

  • The first section is called the Introduction (I) or fanfare and is either 4, 8, or 16 bars long. The introduction is typically played in marcato style, using excitement to catch the attention of the listener. Compared to the other sections of a march, the introduction usually the shortest part. Older marches may not have as blantant a introduction as the March Music Era's, and some may not have it at all. Also, American marches tend to have shorter introductions than their European counterparts. Many marches, notably American ones, make use of either a chromatic, or "rising" or "lowering" feel. In the case of Sousa's influential and famous The Thunderer , its introduction makes use of all three.
  • The next section is commonly called the first strain, as it is the first prominent melody of the march. The first strain is typically 8 or 16 bars long. Most European and some older marches have longer strains. The first strain can vary in phrasing, and is typically bold marcato style.
  • Section B (the second strain) is also 8 or 16 bars long and repeats once. This melody may use somewhat different instrumentation or may alter the relative dynamics of the different parts. It is louder than Section A.
  • Section C, called the trio, is often very soft, and usually utilizes the woodwinds more than the brass.

For marches in major keys, the trio usually modulates to the subdominant (in other words, one flat is added to the key signature). For those in minor keys, the trio is usually in the relative major. This key is maintained to the end of the piece. The trio melody is completely different from the ones in Sections A and B and tends to contrast them. This section is sometimes repeated, sometimes not.

  • Next comes the break strain (sometimes called the dogfight), which would be Section D. This strain is loud, intense and marcato. Section C is usually written out as an extension of the break strain. Section D (with C attached) is usually repeated.

The second time we hear the trio melody (Section C), it may still be soft or it may be forte and is often embellished. The last time, the respective sections are played even more loudly so that, by the end of the piece, things are fortissimo. A stinger is usually added to the last measure of the march -- a single quarter note played by the entire band on the upbeat after a quarter rest. It is the traditional end-of-march "da-dun DUN".

Thus the pattern for this type of march (e.g. John Philip Sousa's Washington Post) is: Introduction-A-A-B-B-C-(C)-D-C-D-C.

Some marches, for example Sousa's Manhattan Beach , follow the pattern: Introduction-A-A-B-B-C-C-D-D.

Marches in the European style (e.g. Under the Double Eagle) go from the end back to the beginning and then play without repeats to a finish just before the trio. The pattern is: Introduction-A-A-B-B-C-D-C-D-C-A-B.

The greatest composer and conductor of marching music is probably John Philip Sousa. Other composers such as Henry Fillmore, Karl King, Fred Jewell, Edwin Franko Goldman, J.J. Richards , and Robert B. Hall are less well known, but have contributed many standard pieces to the march repetoire. Kenneth Alford (Frederic Ricketts) holds the title of the British March King. See Colonel Bogey March.

See also

Last updated: 05-07-2005 11:00:52
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04