American march music

American march music

American march music is march music written and/or performed in the United States of America.


The true "march music era" existed from 1850 to 1940s 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, the history it holds and its performance in the United States, they are generally not thought of as "typical American march music".

Marches and the Military Band

The origins of European and American march music can be traced to the military music of the Ottoman empire. The martial purpose of the music was to regulate the functioning of armies in the field by, in part, communicating orders, and keeping time during marching and maneuvers. The extensive use of percussion, such as cymbals, was also used for psychological effect as their use, especially in Western Europe, was unknown and had the capacity to frighten opponents. Indeed, the subsequent use of cymbals and other such percussive instruments in European 'classical' music was a direct importation from the Ottomans. In the early 1700s Europeans were first exposed to this type of music and interest would continue to build into the early 1800s when a vogue for Turkish marching bands swept through Europe. Pieces displaying this Turkish influence can be found in the works of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven with a notable example being "Turkish March" by Beethoven (part of Op. 113): Overture and incidental music for Die Ruinen von Athen.

The origins of march music 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 fife. 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.

While the tradition of soldiers playing music while marching into battle had ended soon after the American Civil War (mid 1800s), military bands continued to perform marches during related ceremonies and other events. This actually spawned a whole new tradition of playing marches as a source of entertainment.

Marches and the Concert Band

Around the late 1800s and early 1900s, most towns, organizations, theaters and even companies would have their own band. These bands, currently known today as community bands, would perform their music at special events much like the military band, but would often play at simple scheduled concerts and tours (such as the traditional gazebo concerts). By this time, published marches were plentiful due to prolific composers such as John Philip Sousa, Karl L. King and Henry Fillmore. Marches became a staple in the repertoire of these concert bands and can hence explain how the popularity of the march spread so rapidly across the world.

Marches and the Circus

Marches were further popularized with performances by circus bands. During the same period of the community band/concert band, circuses such as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Circus would have live music being performed by their own bands. The marches played were often a special variety of the march known descriptively as “Screamers”, “Two-Steps”, and “Cakewalks”. These marches served the purpose of exciting the crowd while circus acts were taking place.

Marches and the Marching Band

Again, during the same period college marching bands were also beginning to form. March composers would often dedicate marches to university bands. Marches were performed during half-time shows and pep-rallies. Marches were indeed heard everywhere.

The John Philip Sousa Revolution

American composer John Philip Sousa did indeed strongly revolutionize the march. His overall prolific writing of said quality marches added that much to its popularity. According to Sousa researcher Paul Bierley, Sousa’s marches were gems of simplicity and understatement, with rousing counterpoint and overall energy. Sousa also is said to have standardized the traditional march form (see below) and added considerably to the easy-listening genre of music.

tars and Stripes Forever

American march music was forever immortalized with Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", a patriotic march which became the official march of the United States of America. (See article for further details.)

March Music Composers

Most march composers come from the United States or Europe, and have some sort of musical background to them. The most popular march composers existed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, mainly because modern march dedicators are hard to come by. The following is list of march music composers whose marches are frequently performed in the United States.

*Russell Alexander (1877-1915)
*Kenneth Alford (1881-1945) "The British March King"
*Edwin Eugene Bagley (1857-1922)
*Hermann Louis Blankenburg (1876-1956)
*W. Paris Chambers (1854-1913)
*Charles E. Duble (1884-1960)
*Henry Fillmore (1881 - 1956) "The Trombone King"
thumb|270px|right|Karl Lawrence King, another highly popular American march composer who lived during the march music era.
*Julius Fucik (1872-1916) "The Czech March King"
*James M. Fulton (1873-1940) "Associated Press", "Waterbury American"
*Edwin Franko Goldman (1878-1956) "The American Bandmaster"
*Robert B. Hall (1858-1907) "The New England March King"
*George Dallas Sherman (1844-1927) Composer of "Salute to Burlington"
*John Clifford Heed (1864-1908)
*Arthur W. Hughes (ca.1870-ca.1950)
*Fred Jewell (1875-1936) "The Indiana March King"
*Karl L. King (1891 - 1971) "Iowa's Own Music Man", "The Circus Music King"
*John N. Klohr (1869-1956)
*Alex F. Lithgow (1870-1923) "Invercargill"
*Frank H. Losey (1872-1931) "The Pennsylvania March King"
*J. J. Richards (1878-1956) "The Long Beach March King"
*William Rimmer (1862-1936)
*Roland F. Seitz (1867-1946) "The Parade Music Prince"
*John Philip Sousa (1854 - 1932) "The March King"
*Carl Albert Hermann Teike (1864-1922)

Famous Marches

The following is a list of popular marches from around the world that are frequently performed in the United States. They are in alphabetical order for easy reading.

*"Old Comrades (Alte Kameraden)" - Carl Teike
*"All Sports March" – Robert Farnon
*"American Patrol" - W. Frank Meacham, copyrighted March 30, 1885
*"Americans We" - Henry Fillmore, published in 1929
*"Anchors Aweigh" – Charles A. Zimmerman
*"Band of America" – Paul Lavalle
*"Bandology" - Eric Osterling
*"Barnum and Bailey's Favorite" - Karl L. King, composed in 1913
*"Belgian Paratroopers (Marche des Parachutistes Belges)" – Pierre Leemans
*"The Big Cage" - Karl L. King, Copyright 1934
*"Blaze Away!" - Abe Holzmann
*"The Billboard" - John N. Klohr
*"Bombasto" - Orion R. Farrar
*"Boston Commandery March" - Thomas M. Carter
*"Bravura" - Charles Duble
*"Brighton Beach" - William Latham
*"Brooke's Chicago Marine Band" - Roland F. Seitz
*"The Chicago Tribune" - W. Paris Chambers
*"The Chimes of Liberty" - Edwin F. Goldman
*"Colossus of Columbia" - Russell Alexander
*"Colonel Bogey" - Kenneth J. Alford
*"Combination March" - Scott Joplin
*"Coronation March" from Le Prophète" - Giacomo Meyerbeer
*"Crusade for Freedom" - J.J. Richards
*"Children of the Shrine" - James Swearingen
*"E Pluribus Unum" - Fred Jewell
*"El Capitan" - John Philip Sousa
*"Emblem of Unity" - J.J. Richards
*"Entry of the Gladiators" (Thunder and Blazes) - Julius Fucik, composed 1897
*"Fairest of the Fair" - John Philip Sousa
*"Father of Victory (Le père la victoire)" – Louis Ganne
*"The Footlifter" - Henry Fillmore
*"The Gallant Seventh" - John Philip Sousa
*"The Guadalcanal March" - Richard Rodgers
*"Hands Across the Sea" - John Philip Sousa, composed 1899
*"High School Cadets-March" - John Philip Sousa
*"In Storm and Sunshine" - John C. Heed
*"Independentia" - Robert B. Hall
*"Invincible Eagle" - John Philip Sousa
*"Invercargill" - Alex F. Lithgow, composed in 1900
*"The Klaxon" - Henry Fillmore, composed in 1929
*"Königgrätzer Marsch" - Johann Gottfried Piefke
*"The Liberty Bell" - John Philip Sousa, composed 1893
* "March from A Little Suite" - Trevor Duncan
*"March Grandioso" - Roland F. Seitz
*"The Melody Shop" - Karl L. King
*"Men of Ohio" - Henry Fillmore
*"The National Emblem" - Edwin E. Bagley
*"Officer of the Day" - Robert B. Hall
*"Official West Point March" - Philip Egner
*"On Parade" - Edwin Franko Goldman
*"On the Mall" - Edwin Franko Goldman
*"Onward and Upward" - Edwin Franko Goldman
*"On the Square" - Frank Panella
*"On the Quarter Deck" - Kenneth J. Alford
*"Our Director" - F.E. Bigelow
*"Pomp and Circumstance" no. 1" - Edward Elgar
*"Preußens Gloria" ("Prussia's Glory") - Johann Gottfried Piefke
*"The Purple Carnival" - Harry Alford
*"The Purple Pageant" - Karl L. King
*"Radetzky March" - Johann Strauss Sr.
*"Repasz Band" - Chas. C. Sweeley
*"Robinson's Grand Entree" - Karl L. King
*"Salutation" - Roland F. Seitz
*"Semper Fidelis" - John Philip Sousa
*"Semper Paratus" - Francis Saltus Van Boskerck
*"The Screamer" - Fred Jewell
*"Second Connecticut Regiment " – D.W. Reeves
*"Seventy-six Trombones" – Meredith Willson
*"The Southerner" - Russell Alexander
*"Stars and Stripes Forever" - John Philip Sousa, composed Dec 25, 1896
*"The Tenth Regiment" - Robert B. Hall
*"The Thunderer" - John Philip Sousa
*"Under the Double Eagle (Unter dem Doppeladler)" - Josef F. Wagner, composed 1902
*"The U.S. Air Force" – Robert Crawford
*"Up the Street" - Robert G. Morse
*"Washington Greys" - Claudio S. Grafulla, composed in 1861
*"The Washington Post March" - John Philip Sousa, composed 1889

Musicality and the March Music Form

Most marches are musically uplifting, driving, and rollicking. Some can be very emotional, poetic, or even somber. Some can be extremely subtle, while others can be brash and powerful. This topic discusses the musicality aspect of marches; what actually makes up a march, and gives it an ongoing drive. Generalities (the word "most") will be used frequently because as alluded to before, marches can differentiate greatly, especially those of different styles. See "See Also" at the bottom of the page for more information.


The majority of marches are written in duple meter, meaning they have two beats per measure. In fact, only a handful of marches are written otherwise, usually in 4/4, but still using the same tempo (see below).

The following is a list of meters used in marches:

*2/2 or cut-time (indicated by a letter "c" with a slash through it. This literally represents common time being cut in half, hence the name "cut time"). Marches written in cut-time have a clear upbeat/downbeat feel. In layman's terms, a cut-time march has a strong "oom-pah" sound to it. Many cut-time marches utilize heavy syncopation to create rhythmic interest. Because passing tones in most cases are shorter, cut-time marches tend to sound "faster" than other marches in a different meter. The most famous cut-time march would probably be "Stars and Stripes Forever" by Sousa.
*6/8 marches are played in two, meaning the dotted-quarter note gets the beat and there are two of them in a measure. If the composer wants a triplet feel to the march, 6/8 is used. In other words, 6/8 marches have a more dance-like swing feel to them, which is more prominent and exaggerated than its cut-time cousin. A 6/8 March can be distinguished immediately by recognizing its common "da-bah-da-bah" or "DA-da-DA-da" sound. The most famous 6/8 March would probably by The Washington Post March, also by Sousa.
*2/4 is much like cut-time, except that fewer notes appear in a measure, since the quarter note now gets the beat instead of the half note but there are still only two beats per measure. Marches written in 2/4 tend to be for the sake of the performer, as it is, for the most part, easier to read at faster tempos. Many European marches are written in 2/4, and almost all American galops are as well. These galops are played at a very fast tempo, making it sound as if there was one beat to a bar.
*4/4 marches are rarely seen, as it is almost pointless to use with a fast tempo. However, some slow marches, such as dirges, utilize 4/4. Robert Jager also uses 4/4 with his popular quick march, "Stars and Bars".


The tempo of a march is surprisingly varied. While most bands perform marches in their own tempo, most marches are quick (faster than a waltz, as fast as 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. There are, however, many and notable exceptions: see concert march and screamer.


For the sake of band performers, especially altos, marches are typically written in flat keys. The keys of Concert F, Bb, Eb, and Ab are the most frequently used. (NOTE: These refer to the key the march "begins" in, not the modulated key in the trio (see below).

The March Music Form

Most marches follow a fairly strict structure. This structure is known as the march music form. The march music form's origins can be derived from the sonata form, as it shares similar ideas of contrasting sections. The true march music form was not utilized until the start of the march music era, and was eventually standardized by none other than John Philip Sousa.While the march music form varies tremendously amongst different styles of the march, all marches must have the following:
*Different sections, or strains.
*Several separate melodies.
*A contrasting section known as the trio.

The following two march forms are the most popular and frequently used by march music composers.

"The Military March Form"

The military march can be heavily credited to John Philip Sousa. He is said to have standardized the military march form, and it is used in over half of his marches.
*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, typically using forte dynamics to catch the attention of the listener. The intro is almost never not used in a march, examples without an intro include, "Bugles and Drums" and the "Footlifter" Compared to the other sections of a march, the introduction is usually the shortest part. Most introductions utilize chromatic scales and contrary motion counterpoint. This is discussed below. The introduction is commonly based on the V chord for the purpose of creating tension which naturally leads into the next section (See Harmonic Progressions below). The intro isn't generally repeated, but examples where it is are, "Bravura, Rifle Regiment", and "Washington Greys." The introduction generally starts in major, but examples where it doesn't are "the Gladiator, the Picadore, the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Rolling Thunder, and Hands Across the Sea' 'Click here to listen to the introduction of "The Thunderer" by John Philip Sousa. Sound clips are in MIDI format.
*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 with 4-measure phrases. The first strain can be in either major or minor mode and can use any variety of dynamics, instrumentation and modulations. Typically this strain utilizes similar motifs in its phrases, and sounds more rhythmically straightforward than the next section. After the first playing of the strain, it is repeated once, sometimes with added parts such as counter-melodies. Sometimes, the first strain is played again once again after the second strains have been played, particularly if the first strain is in minor. Karl King was the main composer who did this, and Fillmore also did so with his trombone smears. Examples include, "Peacemaker March, New York Hippodrome, Caravan Club March, Trombone King, Lassus Trombone, Royal Decree" and Price's "March of Youth" listen|filename=Thunder 1st.mid|title=The Thunderer First Strain|description=The Thunderer's first strain
*The second strain is usually 16 bars long and is the second primary melody of the march. However, in marches like Solid Men to the Front, amd also Sousa's Untitled March, the second strain is 32 bars in length. Marches that commonly have the first playing of the second strain quiet and the second loud include "The Stars and Stripes Forever", "His Honor", "The Washington Post, Hands Across the Sea, On the Mall" and a load of others, particularly by Sousa. This strain may use somewhat different instrumentation or may alter the relative dynamics of the different parts. The melody of the second strain is normally played with the basses (low brass and low woodwinds). In terms of phrasing, it also uses 4-measure phrases, but with more varied motifs. This makes the second strain's melodies sound more "stretched out". For example, many second strains utilize more whole notes than the first strain. For a good example, listen to "Stars and Stripes Forever". The second strain is usually repeated once like the first, but some marches, for example, Emblem of Freedom, Cyrus the Great, the Melody Shop and a few others, omit this repeat. listen|filename=Thunder 2nd.mid|title=The Thunderer Second Strain|description=The Thunderer's second strain
*"In some marches, a short introduction to the trio is heard. This introduction to the trio can be a repeat of the first introduction, a whole new separate melody played by the whole band, a fanfare by the brasses, or a percussion soli (drum rolloff). "Semper Fidelis" by Sousa, for example, has this. Another example of Trio Introduction is found in Twin Eagle Strut, by Zane Van Auken."
*The third (or technically fourth or fifth) primary melody in a march is called the trio. The trio is described as the "main melody" of the march. It is often played legato style in a softer dynamic, and features woodwinds more than brass. Sousa often used clarinets and euphoniums in lower tenor register in his trios. The trio is the most contrasting section, often containing variations of motifs heard in the previous two strains. The trio melody is often repeated once at a softer dynamic, or not repeated at all and goes right to the next section. Generally, it is played quietly for the first (or second) playthrough, then the next has a piccolo bringing it out, and in the final playthrough, it is loud. In almost all cases, the trio modulates to the subdominant key of the march, meaning one flat is added to the key signature. Again, this is for the purpose of contrast and makes the trio more memorable to the listener. The fact that the key is now flatter also offers a more relaxing feel for those trios with softer instrumentation. For marches starting in minor keys, the trio usually modulates to the relative major. This key is maintained to the end of the piece. listen|filename=Thunder trio.mid|title=The Thunderer Trio|description=The Thunderer's trio
*Next comes the breakstrain or breakup strain (sometimes called the dogfight or interlude), making it the 4th main melody heard. This strain is loud, intense and marcato. The break strain's purpose can be found in its title. The breakstrain literally breaks a gap between the trio sections. It offers contrast to the usually softer trio melodies, and generates excitement for the listener. Most breakstrains resemble a conversation between the upper woodwinds and the low brass. The final measures of the breakstrain typically contain tension-building chords or chromatic motifs. The breakstrain is usually 16 bars long, but marches such as "The Washington Post" and "The Interlochen Bowl" have 8 bar breakstrains. "On the Mall" has a twelve bar breakstrain as does "The Purple Pageant". "Hands Across the Sea" and "The Thunderer" have 16 bar breakstrains. Marches with 20 bar breakstrains include, "Fairest of the Fair" and "Invincible Eagle". The "Stars and Stripes Forever" in fact has a twenty four bar breakstrain
*After the breakstrain, the trio is heard again, either for one last time or and the 2nd (or third) time. If the trio after the breakstrain is the last, it is usually played in the same style as the first trio. Sometimes this trio has added counter-melodies or obbligatos. After this trio, the breakstrain is played again, then moves on to the final trio. The final trio is known as the grandioso. It is typically much louder than the previous playing(s) of the trio and utilizes all sections of the band, bringing everything to a close. The grandioso is considered the most exciting section of the march and serves the purpose of instilling the trio melody into the mind of the listener. The grandioso sometimes adds yet another counter-melody or obbligato, such as the one in "Stars and Stripes Forever". The last measure of the march sometimes contains a "stinger", a I chord played in unison on the upbeat after a quarter rest. Most, but not all marches carry a stinger; the "Semper Fidelis" march is a famous march not to have an ending stinger. Most marches end at the volume forte (loud), but an example that doesn't is Sousa's Manhattan Beach ends fading away.
*"In some military marches, such as "U.S. Field Artillery" by John Philip Sousa, there is only one playing of the breakstrain, resulting in only two "playings" of the trio." Apart from "On the Mall" and "the Chimes of Liberty," and a couple of others, Goldman's marches in the military form only had two playings of the trio.

Therefore, the Military March Form is this:I-AA-BB-C(C)-Br-C-Br-C(Grandioso)

*Examples of military marches include: "Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa, "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite" by Karl L. King, and "On the Mall" by Edwin F. Goldman

"The "Regimental" March Form"

Another popular (and perhaps older) march style is the regimental march, or review march. There are a few key differences between a typical military march and a regimental march.

*The introduction, first and second strains are typically that of a military march. However, some utilize a much longer introduction.
*Instead of a breakstrain after the trio, a regimental march has a completely new strain (D), which still uses the modulated key). This strain has similar characteristics of a second strain, and is almost always repeated once.
*Because the regimental march is considerably shorter than a military march (due to its lack of a third trio repeat and breakstrain), it is often played by marching bands in parades (hence the name "review march").

Therefore, the "Regimental" march form is this:I-AA-BB-CC-DD

*Examples of "regimental" marches include: "Semper Fidelis" by John Philip Sousa (when not recapitulated back to the beginning of the march - see below), "Men of Ohio" by Henry Fillmore, "Bugles and Drums" by Goldman and "Robinson's Grand Entry" by Karl L. King.

"Other Forms and Styles"

*Some marches, typically those written specifically for marching and/or youth bands, have no breakstrain or 'D' section at all. They simply have one repeat of the trio (typically in the grandioso style), and then the march ends (Form: I-AA-BB-CC). Examples of these marches include "Our Director" by F.E. Bigelow, and "Gallant Marines" by Karl L. King. Karl King and Henry Fillmore often used this style in their marches. John Philip Sousa rarely used this style.
*Many earlier and European marches recapitulate back to the beginning of the march. These marches typically did not use the Military March Form, but rather a shorter form such as the one directly above or the regimental march form. In other words, after either the final trio, or 'D' section, the march would start over again. Once it has done that, repeats are ignored, and ends after the second strain. Codas are rare, but sometimes used as well, for example in "Riders for the Flag" by Sousa, and "Children of the Shrine" by James Swearingen. The tradition of recapitulating marches ended at the start of the march music era. For example, John Philip Sousa abandoned this technique with all of his marches, except for "On Parade" one of Sousa's few circus marches. In fact, only Victor Herbert was one of the last American composers that still used recapitulation during the march music era. Examples of these marches include: "Under the Double Eagle" by Wagner and "The Serenade" by Victor Herbert.


The basic (and vague) definition of a march is a piece of music based upon a regular repeated drum/rhythmic pattern. Therefore, what makes a march recognizable is its phrases. Almost all quickstep marches consist of four-measure phrases, typical ending with a whole note either creating or resolving melodic tension (see Progressions) followed by a pickup note (see Pickups). It can be said that this rather "basic" framework is what makes marches melodically "pleasing". Some marches have more noticeable phrases than others. Karl King's marches for example have very clear-cut phrases with said whole notes and pickups. John Philip Sousa however tended to use practically seamless phrasing.

Chords and Harmonic Progression

The basic nature of all music is to harmonically "setup and resolve" tension. Marches are no different. In fact, most marches use seemingly basic progressions and chords for the purpose of sounding melodically pleasing, and unchallenging (listening wise). However, that's not to say march composers did not utilize certain extended techniques.

Consider "Semper Fidelis" by John Philip Sousa. The following is the chord progression. Note, each barred section represents one measure, for a total of 16 measures.
*|G7| |G7| |C| |C| |G7| |G7| |C| |C| |G7| |G7| |C| |C|C#dim| |G| |G| |D7| |G7
"Semper Fidelis'" first strain begins with a very simple V-I progression, creating a wave-like sense of tension and relief. Note its use of dominant seven chords to make the V chord stronger. This extension is used in many marches. Towards the end however, the progression gets more harmonically interesting. In the middle of the measure before the trumpet "fanfare", the chord alters to C#dim instead of remaining on C as before. Because the C#dim chord does not exist in the key of C, it is known to be "chromatically leading". This chord "leads" into the V chord (G), which is then followed by a D7 chord. A D chord in the key of C would be the ii chord, and all ii chords must be minor. However, the D chord in this case is not minor. Rather, it is known as a secondary dominant, in which a dominant chord is borrowed from another key, hence "secondary dominant". A secondary dominant naturally leads into a chord other than the first (I chord). In this case, it leads into the V (G7).

The following is the chord progression of the second strain. Note, each barred section represents one measure, for a total of 16 measures.
*|C| |F|G7| |C| |C| |G7| |G7| |C| |C|G7| |C| |F|E7| |Am| |Ab7| |C| |C| |G| |C|

As with most second strains, this one features more rapidly changing chords. Note the use of the IV chord, used in marches to create a very "uplifting" and lyrical sound which will tend to resolve back to the I chord or proceed into the V chord, as it does here. At measure ten, where it restates the main theme, Sousa uses a rather "deceptive" chord change. Instead of using F to G7 to C as he did in measures two and three, it goes from the IV (F) to the V7/VI (E7, secondary dominant), to the VI (Am). The main melodic theme uses the same notes, but revolves around a different harmonic progression, resulting in greater chordal interest (less repetitive). Sousa then uses his trademark chromatic accented chord (Ab7; note that it is a half-step below the previous chord) to create a "wall of tension" which quickly resolves into the I chord.

Another "accented" chromatic chord frequently used by march music composers is an inversion of a I chord with a lowered third and raised fifth. For example, if there was an Eb major chord (the I in the key of Eb), it would be followed by a B major chord (because a B chord is an Eb chord with a lowered third and raised fifth). Unlike the aforementioned secondary dominants, this chord really does not have logical harmonic functions to it (besides neighbor tone usage) other than to add texture and interest.

In summary:
*Most marches use seemingly simple chord progressions, for the sake of sounding melodically pleasing, however...
*March composers will often compliment their marches with interesting chords and chord changes, such as the use of chromatic harmonies, sevenths extensions, and secondary dominants.


The actual difficulty of performance is considerably varied amongst marches. Because marches were some of the first music to be written for grade school bands (which were just becoming prominent throughout the country), many marches are fairly modest in difficulty. However, given the fact that many composers wrote marches for their own band (typically a professional community or circus band), some require almost virtuoso skill to perform. That being said, many conductors note that any march is difficult to play "perfectly", with all correct expressions, articulation and steady tempo.The following difficulty grading system is adapted from Norman Smith's "March Music Notes".
*Grade 1: Minimum difficulty. Suited for beginner bands who are first approaching music. May even be a simple etude or diddy from an instructional book.
*Grade 2: Also for beginner bands, but more developed, usually with different notes and rhythms. Instrumental ranges are comfortable and most require minimal endurance. Some follow the standard march form, but most are abbreviated, or in a more concert march form.
*Grade 3: The standard march difficulty. Usually in full march form, this difficulty requires moderate technique and endurance skills. Instrumental range is usually intermediate (trumpets going up to a high G, no ledger line), and most likely will contain chromatic notes, obbligatos, and counter-melodies. Many Grade 3's are used in actual parade marching. Examples of Grade 3 marches would be "The Thunderer" and "The National Emblem".
*Grade 4: Moderately difficult. Typical high school bands will find this grade requiring a considerable amount of practice/rehearsal. Grade 4's will contain many technically challenging parts and some syncopation. They also tend to require a strict, complete ensemble for proper performance as they may contain intricate harmonies and counter-melodies. Examples of Grade 4 marches would be "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite".
*Grade 5: Considerably difficult. Usually originally written for professional, virtuoso band members, such as those in a circus band. Therefore, many Grade 5's are Screamers. They are guaranteed to contain woodwind obbligatos or chromatic runs and test the range of any player (high C's for trumpets). May have very quick tempos, as well as complicated rhythms and syncopation. Examples of Grade 5 marches would be "Entry of the Gladiators", "The Washington Greys", and "Battle of Shiloh".
*Grade 6: A rare difficulty. Usually a Grade 6 is found in a greater piece of work such as a symphony, where it can contain mixed meters, intricate rhythms, and harmonies.


A general instrumentation setup used originally for American marches would be very difficult to explain, as most bands were extremely varied in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As stated before, most of the standard march music was written for the composer's band. Whether that be the Sousa, Ringling Bros. or Gilmore, every band typically had marches written by their conductor in repertoire. With that said, most marches were also written in a very specific instrumentation. For example, many composers simply wrote a piano version of the march, and it was up to the publisher to arrange separate parts for concert band, orchestra, etc.

Assignments and Roles of Instrument Sections

There are some generalities that can be made pertaining to what role a section of a concert band holds in a typical march. Examples:Trumpets/cornets almost always carry the melody. They also tend to be scored various "flourishes" and "calls" for effect.Clarinets, piccolos, and flutes also tend to carry the melody, but often are assigned obbligatos and other various integral lines. French Horns tend to always carry the rhythmic backup of a march. For example, in cut-time marches, they are typically assigned upbeats (the + of 1 and 2) to provide the "pah" for the stylistic "oom-pah" sound. In 6/8 marches, French horns play on beat 1, the 'a' of 1, beat 2, and the 'a' of 2 (1-a2-a). In other words, the measure would be one eighth note, then an eighth rest, then two eighth notes, an eighth rest, then a final eighth note.


External links

* [ Marches] Free military marches in mp3 from all over the world
* [ March Music] Downloadable recordings of marches performed by the US Air Force Bands
* [ James M. Fulton] Information and recordings of music by James M. Fulton
* [ Karl King Page] Includes circus marches by one of America's "March Kings"


* Norman E. Smith "March Music Notes" Copyright 1993 by Norman E. Smith, Published by Program Note Press.
* Norman E. Smith "March Music Melodies" Copyright 1993 by Norman E. Smith, Published by Program Note Press.
* Jeff Yaeger "Forgotten American Music"
* Paul E. Bierley "The Works of John Philip Sousa" Copyright 1984 by Paul E. Bierly, Published by Integrity Press
* "Virginia Tech Online Music Dictionary"

ee also

*Martial music
*Concert march
*Screamer (march)
*Marching band
*Authorized marches of the Canadian Forces

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