What is Strophic Form?

What is strophic form in music?

Strophic form is a type of form in music, and it has been used for centuries. Many music genres, including classical, folk, jazz, and pop music, have all used strophic form. It’s one of the most popular musical forms in the world.

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at the strophic form definition, as well as some examples in music. But before we get started, let’s review the meaning of musical form.

What is Form in Music?

Musical form is a way to categorize music by how it is structured.

It looks at different aspects like melody, harmony, and rhythm, and then breaks the song into phrases or passages, according to the melody.

Then we label the song chunks with different letters, like this: AABB, ABAB, ABCD, etc.

This way, we can tell what sections of the song are repeated. Then we can use the sections to categorize the song into a certain form.

For example, if we label the verse “A” and the chorus “B,” the folksong “Greensleeves” would be labeled as ABAB, which is binary form.

There are several different musical forms. If you’d like to learn more about the basics of form in music, check out our post about musical form HERE.

Strophic Form Definition

So now that we know the basics of musical form, what is the strophic form?

In Greek, the word strophe means turning. So strophic means turning, rolling, or repeating one segment over and over.

With strophic form, there is only one song segment that keeps getting repeated. When we label the song segments, it looks like this: AAAA. The first verse sets the melody and harmony, and then in the following verses, the melody is repeated with different lyrics.

You might also hear strophic form called by something else, such as verse-repeating form, or one-part song form.

Strophic form dates all the way back to ancient Greece, when the Greek poet Pindar used it to write a poem about athletes.

Now, it’s one of the most popular musical forms, because it is easy to learn and remember music that is written in strophic form.

Examples of Strophic Form in Music

Lots of classical composers used strophic form in their music. One example can be found in the piece, “Das Wandern” by Franz Schubert.

Even though the melody sounds fluid, this song strictly follows the strophic form. The same melodies are repeated in the vocals and the piano accompaniment.

Das Wandern

Some of the most famous examples of strophic form include nursery rhymes and church hymns.

One example is the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Notice how the same notes are repeated in every verse. This kind of repetition helps the listener focus on the lyrics, instead of on the notes.

Strophic form works very well with a lot of children’s songs, because the repeated melodies make them easier for children to learn.

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Another example of strophic form can be found in the old hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Again, the verse-repeating form is popular with hymns because it makes the songs very easy to learn.

Check out this beautiful cover of “Be Thou My Vision” by BYU Noteworthy:

Be Thou My Vision

And of course, the most famous example of strophic form in music is the church hymn, “Amazing Grace.” This is one of the most well-known songs in the world.

Many versions of Amazing Grace include some modifications, like key changes or changes in rhythm and tempo. But as long as the main melody stays the same, it still counts as a type of Modified Strophic form.

Amazing Grace

Modern Music Examples

Even though it’s less popular in jazz music, you might see this form in 12 bar blues songs. “Crossroads” by Robert Johnson is a good example of this.

Crossroads

And of course, we can’t talk about strophic form without mentioning Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan, a country/folk singer and songwriter, uses a lot of verse-repeating form in his music. Some of his greater hits include “Maggie’s Farm,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Positively 4th Street,” and “The Times They Are A-Changing.” All of these songs use strophic form.

Verse-repeating is very popular in folk music, especially in songs that tell a story. Many of Bob Dylan’s songs are more about the lyrics than the tune, so he uses the same basic melodies throughout the song, letting the listener focus on the lyrics.

Listen to this example, Bob Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” to see this in action:

Subterranean Homesick Blues

How to Tell if a Song is in Strophic Form

So how do you tell what form a song is written in?

A good way to start is by looking at the song lyrics, if there are any. Many popular songs have the same lyrics in every chorus. Mark each section of lyrics into verses (and chorus, if applicable).

If your song does not include lyrics, listen for a rest in the melody line. Usually, a phrase has a clear beginning and end. This might be marked by a breath sign (for wind instruments) or a rest in the melody line (for piano). Then divide the song up into phrases.

(For a quick refresher on phrases in music, check out this post HERE.)

Once you have the song divided into phrases or passages (verses and chorus), label each of the different melodies with a letter, starting with A.

If all of the verses have the same melody, your labels should be A, A, A, etc. This song is in strophic form.

And if you come up with any other combination, try using this table to figure out what form your song is in.

Types of Musical Form: A Table

This table will help you distinguish and recognize the different types of musical form.

StrophicAAAA (Amazing Grace)
BinaryAB or AABB (Greensleeves)
TernaryABA (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)
RondoABACADA or ABACABA (Fur Elise)
VariationalAny form with theme and variations
SonataIntroduction, exposition, development, recapitulation, coda

A Summary of Strophic Form

Strophic form is one of the most popular musical forms, and it works best for songs that want to put focus on the lyrics.

It’s been around since ancient Greece, and due to its popularity, it’s not going anywhere for a long time!

I hope this article helps you learn more about this particular type of music form. If you have any questions about music theory, let me know in the comments!

Jessica Roberts
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