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What is Strophic Form In Music?

The vast majority of songs or music have a basic form; you could call it a format. It is simply the way they are written and how the parts are arranged in order. 

There are a lot of forms, but one of the easiest to understand and recognize is the Strophic form. Therefore, to better understand this amazing technique, I will explain what is Strophic Form in music. So, let’s get started.

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More Greek

Of course… Music theory would not be recognizable without its fair share of Greek words. “Strophe” is another, meaning “to turn.” Like the word itself, it is a system that has been used in music for centuries. 

You will find Strophic Form in Medieval church music and through all the later periods, into the Classical and Romantic periods, and the modern age. It is prevalent in Folk and Jazz and even today’s popular music. 

One of the great exponents of the Strophic form is a name you will be more than familiar with. More on that later.

So, what is the Strophic Form?

It is a quite simple form that uses the same tune or melody and repeats it over again. The text and the lyrics may change. There could even be a chorus. But they are all sung or played to the same melody. Before we take a look at it and how the Strophic Form is constructed, let’s just remind ourselves of what form in music is.

What is Musical Form?

What is Musical Form?

What we call musical form is just a way of describing the structure of a song or piece of music. We analyze it and recognize it by allocating letters to the parts that represent different parts of the music.

As an example, we could take a pop song. We could label the verse as A and the Chorus as B. The song’s structure might be verse, chorus, verse, and chorus. We would refer to the form as being A-B-A-B.

Short or Long

The form can be described in this way with very easy structures like our example. But it can also be used in very complex structures, as in the movements of some pieces of classical music. Whether the identifiable parts are short as in verses, or long as in movements, the form can be described this way.

Variations of Form

A song or piece of music can be broken down into smaller pieces and labeled A-B- etc., as we have just seen. Those we call sectional forms. A strophic form is a sectional form. Let’s look at it a bit closer.

Strophic Form

It has a variety of names. You may hear it referred to as chorus form or verse-repeating form. It is a structure where the verse or a passage of music is repeated over again without change. 

If we assign the label A to the verse, then a Strophic structure would be A – A – A – A. That is the most basic answer to the question, “What is Strophic Form in Music?”

This may surprise you, but there are a lot of songs and music that use the Strophic Form. Nearly all of them you will be very familiar with. As I said, there is a great modern songwriter who uses this structure all the time.

Songs Written in Strophic Form? 

As I said, this musical form goes back quite a long way. Endless church hymns and songs are written in Strophic form. Additionally, numerous pieces of music that used Strophic Form have likely been lost to time.

In Church

In church culture, the form was prevalent, and many of them have survived until today. Some have even been given the “modern treatment,” but they are still in Strophic form. A good example of Strophic Form in church music is “Amazing Grace.” Seven verses, all the same.

The Great Composers

It might seem like a musical format that less experienced composers might use. But it was a popular form for some of the Masters.

  • Haydn – often used a Strophic format in his string quartet pieces. He even used it in his symphonies. Usually where he has a slower second movement.
  • Franz Schubert – wrote in Strophic format for his array of folk and narrative works, “Der Fischer” being a good example. He wrote several of his songs in his collective work “Die Schone Mullerin” in Strophic form.

For the Kids

When creating music for children to sing along with, repetition is a great way to get them to learn. Once they have picked up the basics, it will be just a matter of changing the words. But the melody will remain the same. 

Here is a couple that we probably sang as kids.

  • Old McDonald Had a Farm.
  • The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.

It spread across continents as well, and we see examples of Strophic form in American Folk music.

  • Oh, Susanna.
  • Michael Row the Boat Ashore.
  • Barbara Ellen.

Blues and Jazz don’t escape the Strophic simplicity and the impact of repetition. A great example of its use is Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.”

A Storytellers Musical Dream

A Storytellers Musical Dream

This is how I would describe the Strophic form. Its simplicity is easy to listen to, and it certainly gives musical weight to storytelling. We’ve already touched on this principle with the song “Barbara Ellen.” But today’s poet songwriters have made the most of it. 

One such singer/songwriter who has made an impact with Strophic Form is Gordon Lightfoot. A good example of his Strophic work being “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Twice I have mentioned one of the great users of the Strophic form in his songwriting. And we are talking about the greatest poet songwriter on the planet. A man with a message that fueled a generation of protest. Someone whose message applies even more today, than it did during those dark days of the war in Vietnam, is Bob Dylan.

He used the Strophic power of repetition and understood how to manipulate its content. And thus left us with songs that are likely to be remembered for quite some time. These are just some of Bob Dylan’s Strophic Form songs, including the rallying cry of a generation.

  • Maggie’s Farm.
  • Subterranean Homesick Blues.
  • Positively 4th Street.
  • Don’t Think Twice. It’s Alright.
  • The Times They Are A Changin.

Going Further with Musical Forms

For those that are interested in studying musical forms and their interpretations, here are some good materials.

Want to Learn More about Modes and Theory?

Let our experts lend a hand. Take a look at our handy guides on The Mixolydian ModeThe Minor ScalesThe Aeolian ModeWhat Is AABA Form In MusicThe Dorian Mode, and Diatonic Scales for more useful information.

Also, an instrument upgrade could make a difference. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Digital Piano With Weighted Keys, the Best Cheap Keyboard Piano, the Best Yamaha Saxophones, the Best Selmer Saxophones, the Best Classical Guitars, the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $300, and the Best Mandolins you can buy in 2023.

What is Strophic Form In Music – Final Thought 

As you can see, this musical form has had a major impact on music for centuries. And it is still very relevant today.

So, until next time, let your music play.

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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