March (music)

"March (song)" redirects here. For songs entitled "March", see March (disambiguation).
"Marching song" redirects here. For the 1937 Broadway play, see John Howard Lawson. For the 2010 single, see Marching Song (Esben and the Witch song). For the Vietnamese "marching song", see Army March.

A march, as a musical genre, is a piece of music with a strong regular rhythm which in origin was expressly written for marching to and most frequently performed by a military band. In mood, marches range from the moving death march in Wagner's Götterdämmerung to the brisk military marches of John Philip Sousa and the martial hymns of the late 19th century. Examples of the varied use of the march can be found in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, in the Marches Militaires of Franz Schubert, in the Marche funèbre in Chopin's Sonata in B flat minor, and in the Dead March in Handel's Saul.

The Band of the Welsh Guards of the British Army play as guardsmen march up the Mall to change the guard


Marches can be written in any time signature, but the most common time signatures are 4
, 2
(alla breve , although this may refer to 2 time of Johannes Brahms, or cut time), or 6
. However, some modern marches are being written in 1
or 2
time. The modern march tempo hovers around 120 beats per minute; however, many funeral marches conform to the Roman standard of 60 beats per minute. The tempo is meant to match the pace of soldiers walking and remaining in step. Both tempos match the standard rate of 120 steps per minute.

The form of a march typically consists of 16 to 32 measures in length with multiple repeats until a new section. Most importantly, a march consists of a strong and steady percussive beat reminiscent of military field drums.

Marches frequently change keys once, modulating to the subdominant key, and occasionally returning to the original tonic key. If it begins in a minor key, it modulates to the relative major. Marches frequently have counter-melodies introduced during the repeat of a main melody. Marches frequently have a penultimate dogfight strain in which two groups of instruments (high/low, woodwind/brass, etc.) alternate in a statement/response format. In most traditional American marches, there are three strains. The third strain is referred to as the "trio".

A military music event where various marching bands and units perform is called tattoo.


Drum – Cadence A

Drum – Cadence B

Drum – Four Flams

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Marches weren't notated until the late 16th century; until then, time was generally kept by percussion alone, often with improvised fife embellishment. With the extensive development of brass instruments, especially in the 19th century, marches became widely popular and were often elaborately orchestrated. Composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Gustav Mahler wrote marches, often incorporating them into their operas, sonatas, or symphonies. The later popularity of John Philip Sousa's band marches was unmatched.

The march tempo of 120 beats or steps per minute was adapted by Napoleon Bonaparte so that his army could move faster. Since he planned to occupy the territory he conquered, instead of his soldiers carrying all of their provisions with them, they would live off the land and march faster. The French march tempo is faster than the traditional tempo of British marches; the British call marches in the French tempo quick marches. Traditional American marches use the French or quick march tempo. There are two reason for this: First, U.S. military bands adopted the march tempos of France and other continental European nations that aided the U.S. during its early wars with Great Britain. Second, the composer of the greatest American marches, John Philip Sousa, was of Portuguese and German descent. Portugal used the French tempo exclusively—the standard Sousa learned during his musical education. A military band playing or marching at the traditional British march tempo would seem unusually slow in the United States.

March music originates from the military, and marches are usually played by a marching band. The most important instruments are various drums (especially snare drum), horns, fife or woodwind instruments and brass instruments. Marches and marching bands have even today a strong connection to military, both to drill and parades. Marches, which are played at paces with multiples of normal heartbeat, can have a hypnotic effect on the marching soldiers, rendering them into a trance, This effect was widely known already in the 16th century, and was employed to lead the soldiers in closed ranks against the enemy fire in the 16th and 17th century wars.

March music is often important for ceremonial occasions. Processional or coronation marches, such as the popular coronation march from Le prophète by Giacomo Meyerbeer and the many examples of coronation marches written for British monarchs by English composers, such as Edward Elgar, Edward German, and William Walton, are all in traditional British tempos.

National styles

European march music

Radetzky March
Austrian composer Johann Strauss's "Radetzky March" arranged for the United States Marine Band

Florentiner March
Czech composer Julius Fučík's "Florentiner March" performed by the United States Navy Band

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Many European countries and cultures developed characteristic styles of marches.

British marches typically move at a more stately pace (ca. 88–112 beats per minute), have intricate countermelodies (frequently appearing only in the repeat of a strain), have a wide range of dynamics (including unusually soft sections), use full-value stingers at the ends of phrases (as opposed to the shorter, marcato stinger of American marches). The final strain of a British march often has a broad lyrical quality to it. Archetypical British marches include "The British Grenadiers" and those of Kenneth Alford, such as the well-known "Colonel Bogey March" and "The Great Little Army".

Scottish bagpipe music makes extensive use of marches played at a pace of approximately 90 beats per minute. Many popular marches are traditional and of unknown origin. Notable examples include Scotland the Brave, Highland Laddie, Bonnie Dundee and Cock of the North. Retreat marches are set in 3/4 time, such as The Green Hills of Tyrol and When the Battle's O'er. The bagpipe also make use of slow marches such as the Skye Boat Song and the Cradle Song. These are set in 6/8 time and are usually played at around 60 beats per minute.

German marches move at a very strict tempo of 110 beats per minute, and have a strong oom-pah polka-like/folk-like quality resulting from the bass drum and low-brass playing on the downbeats and the alto voices, such as peck horn and snare drums, playing on the off-beats. This provides a very martial quality to these marches. The low brass is often featured prominently in at least one strain of a German march. To offset the rhythmic martiality of most of the strains, the final strain (the trio) often has a lyrical (if somewhat bombastic) quality. Notable German and Austrian march composers include Carl Teike ("Alte Kameraden"), Hermann Ludwig Blankenburg, Johann Gottfried Piefke ("Preußens Gloria"), Hans Schmid, Josef Wagner, and Karl Michael Ziehrer.

Swedish marches have many things in common with the German marches, much due to historical friendship and bonding with states like Prussia, Hessia and, from 1871 and on, Germany. The tempo is strict and lies between 110 and 112 beats per minute. The oom-pah rhythm is common, although it is rarely as distinctive as in a typical German march. The first bars are nearly always played loudly, followed by a cheerful melody, often with pronounced countermelodies in the euphoniums and trombones. At least one strain of a Swedish march is usually dedicated to the low brass, where the tubas also play the melody, with the rest of the instruments playing on the off-beats. The characteristics of the trio vary from march to march, but the final strain tends to be grand and loud. Examples of Swedish marches are "Under blågul fana" by Viktor Widqvist and "På post för Sverige" by Sam Rydberg.

French military marches are distinct from other European marches by their emphasis on percussion and brass, often incorporating bugle calls as part of the melody or as interludes between strains. Most French marches are in common metre and place a strong percussive emphasis on the first beat of each measure, hence the characteristic BOOM-whack-whack-whack rhythm. Famous French marches include "Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse", "La Victoire est à Nous", "Marche de la garde consulaire à Marengo", "La Galette", the "Chant du départ, Le Chant des Africains, Le Caïd, la Marche Lorraine and "Le Boudin".

Greek marches typically combine French and German musical traditions, due to the Modern Greek State's history of Germanic Royal Dynasties, combined with Francophile governments as well as French and Bavarian officers and military advisors, who brought their respective musical traditions with them. Among the most famous marches are "Famous Macedonia" (Μακεδονία Ξακουστή), a march to commemorate Greece's victory in the Balkan Wars, "Greece never dies" (Η Ελλάδα ποτε δεν πεθαίνει), "The Argean Sailor" (Ο Ναύτης του Αιγαίου), "The Artillery" (Το Πυροβολικό), "From flames, Crete" (Από φλόγες, η Κρήτη), and "The Army Marches Forth" (Πέρναει ο Στρατός). Almost all Greek marches have choral versions. Many of these marches, in the choral versions, are also popular patriotic songs, which are taught to Greek children in school and are sang along on various occasions, such as national holidays and parades. "Famous Macedonia" also serves as the unofficial anthem of the Greek Region of Macedonia.

Dutch marches typically feature a heavy intro, often played by the trombones, euphoniums, drums, and tubas, followed by a lighthearted trio and a reasonably fast and somewhat bombastic conclusion. Dutch emphasis on low brass is also made clear in that Dutch military bands use sousaphones, which have a more forward projection of sound, rather than the regular concert tubas used by most other European military styles. Some well-known Dutch march composers are Jan Gerard Palm, Willy Schootemeyer, Adriaan Maas, Johan Wichers, and Hendrik Karels. By far, most Dutch military bands perform their music on foot; however, some Dutch regiments (most notably the Trompetterkorps Bereden Wapens) carry on a Dutch tradition in which its historical bicycle infantry had a mounted band, thus playing march music on bikes.

Italian marches have a very light musical feel, often having sections of fanfare or soprano obbligatos performed with a light coloratura articulation. This frilly characteristic is contrasted with broad lyrical melodies reminiscent of operatic arias. It is relatively common to have one strain (often a first introduction of the final strain) that is played primarily by the higher-voiced instruments or in the upper ranges of the instruments' compass. A typical Italian march is "Il Bersagliere" (The Italian Rifleman) by Boccalari. Uniquely, the Bersaglieri regiments always move at a fast jog, and their running bands play at this pace, with marches like "Passo di Corsa dei Bersaglieri" (Jog March of the Bersaglieri) and "Flick Flock" as great examples.

The most characteristic Spanish march form is the pasodoble. Spanish marches often have fanfares at the beginning or end of strains that are reminiscent of traditional and popular music. These marches often move back and forth between major and (relative) minor keys, and often show a great variation in tempo during the course of the march reminiscent of a prolonged Viennese rubato. Typical Spanish marches are "Amparito Roca" by Jaime Teixidor, "Los Voluntarios" by Gerónimo Giménez, and "El Turuta" by Roman de San Jose.

Notable Czech (Bohemian) march composers include František Kmoch and Julius Fučík, who wrote "Entrance of the Gladiators".

While many of the marches of Tsarist Russia share similar characteristics with German marches of the period, and indeed some were directly borrowed from Germany (such as "Der Königgrätzer Marsch"), the indigenous, pre-revolutionary Russian march has a distinctly Russian sound, with powerful strains in minor keys repeated with low brass with occasional flashes of major chords between sections. The Soviet period produced a large number of modern marches incorporating both Russian themes and structure reminiscent of Dutch marches. Frequently in major keys, Soviet marches often span a wide range of dynamics while maintaining a strong melody well-balanced with the percussion, entering the bombastic range without overpowering percussion as is common with French marches. They are often in the A-B/Cb-A form or ternary form. Agapkin's Farewell of Slavianka is one common example of the classical Russian march.

American march music

Main article: American march music
The Stars and Stripes Forever
John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever", the national march of the United States, performed by the United States Marine Band

The Circus Bee

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The true march music era existed from 1855 to the 1940s when it was overshadowed by jazz, which the march form influenced (especially in ragtime).[1] American march music cannot be discussed without mentioning "The March King", John Philip Sousa, who revolutionized the march during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of his most famous marches are "Semper Fidelis", "The Washington Post", "The Liberty Bell", and "The Stars and Stripes Forever". Sousa's marches are typically marked by a subdued trio, as in "The Stars and Stripes Forever" in which the rest of the band becomes subordinated to arguably the most famous piccolo solo in all of music. Typically, an American march consists of a key change, quite often happening in coordination with the Trio. The key may change back before the song is over, especially if the Trio ends well before the last few measures of the march.

A specialized form of the typical American march music is the circus march, or screamer, typified by the marches of Henry Fillmore and Karl King. These marches are performed at a significantly faster tempo (140 to 200 beats per minute) and generally have an abundance of runs, fanfares, and other showy features. Frequently, the low brass has one or more strains (usually the second strain) in which they are showcased with both speed and bombast. Stylistically, many circus marches employ a lyrical final strain which (in the last time through the strain) starts out maestoso (majestically, slower and more stately) and then, in the second half of the strain, speeds up to end the march faster than the original tempo.

Marches continued to be commissioned throughout the 20th century to commemorate important American events. In the 1960s, Anthony A. Mitchell, director of the United States Navy Band, was commissioned to write "The National Cultural Center March" for the center that would later become known as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.[2]

Turkish march music

Modern Turkey's national anthem is the march, "İstiklâl Marşı", which has an aggressive tune. Generally, old Turkish marches from the Ottoman Empire have aggressive lyrics, for instance in "Mehter Marşı". It is notable that Mozart and Beethoven also wrote popular Turkish marches.

Asian march music


Review March (分列行進曲)
Charles Leroux's "Review March", the signature march of the Imperial Japanese Army, performed by the Imperial Japanese Army Band.

Warship March (軍艦行進曲)
Setoguchi Tokichi's "Warship March" as performed by the Imperial Japanese Navy Band

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Japan's march music tradition began in the 19th century after the country's ports were forced open to foreign trade by the Perry Expedition. An influx of Western musical culture that the newly arrived traders and diplomats brought with them swept through Japanese musical culture, leaving a lasting legacy on the country's music. Japanese and foreign musicians of the time sought to impart Western musical forms to the Japanese, as well as combining Japanese-style melodies with Western-style harmonization. Furthermore, with Japan's government and society stabilized after the Meiji Restoration, the country sought to centralize and modernize its armed forces, with the armed forces of France and Prussia serving as models. All of these helped augur in what would later become modern Japanese music. The march genre, already sharing roots with the preexisting tradition of "gunka", or military songs, became very popular, especially in the years after Japan's victories in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.

One of the earliest and most enduring of Japanese marches is the Review March (分列行進曲) composed in 1886 by Charles Leroux, an officer with the French Army serving as an advisor to the Imperial Japanese Army. Originally two separate marches based on Japanese melodies—Fusouka (扶桑歌) and Battotai (抜刀隊), inspired by the Satsuma Rebellion and reportedly a favorite song of the Emperor Meiji—they were later combined in the march currently recognized today. It soon became a very popular band standard, with the Imperial Japanese Army adopting it as their signature march. After World War II the JGSDF and the Japanese police would adopt the march, where it continues to be a core part of their repertoire.

In the years before 1945, many distinguished composers such as Yamada Kōsaku, Nakayama Shimpei, Hashimoto Kunihiko, Setoguchi Tōkichi, and Eguchi Yōrushi all contributed to the genre. Some were military and nationalist in tone. Others, like Nakayama's 1928 Tokyo March (東京行進曲), were meant for popular consumption and wholly unrelated to military music.

Among the most popular Japanese marches are the following:

Lupang Hinirang (Chosen Land)
Julian Felipe's"Lupang Hinirang", the National Anthem Philippines, performed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Band.

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The Philippine march tradition is a mix of European and American traditions plus local musical styles. Several famous Philippine composers composed marches, and even Julián Felipe composed the march that would become Lupang Hinirang, the national anthem. Several marches are adaptations of local folk music, others have a patriotic feeling.

The Philippine march music tradition began in the 19th century, during the Philippine Revolution, as an offshoot of the Spanish march tradition. This is popular form of music as a battle hymn in the same way as in the US or France specially if Filipino soldiers are going to war or winning battles, is also the way of the Filipino to express their nationalistic affection to their native land. This style of music was also popular during the Philippine–American War and during the Second World War.

During the late 1960s at the time of Marcos era, this form of music begun to be widely used as a part of military drills, Parades and exercises of the Armed Forces, National Police and Coast Guard. Some famous marches are:

Title/PieceComposer Description
Lupang Hinirang Julián Felipe The national anthem of the Philippines
Alerta Katipunan! (On alert Katipunan!)Julio NakpilOne of well-known marching song by the Katipunan and Philippine Revolutionary Army.
Marangal na Dalit ng katagalugan (Noble hymn of the Tagalogs) Tagalog hymn
Marcha Filipino Magdalo A Military Song of magdalo Army
Mabuhay! Tito Cruz Jr. Presidential hymn
Ang Bayan Ko (my Nation) Jose Corazon de Jesus Patriotic song
Salve Patria Julio Nakpil Katipunan Hymn
Bagong Pagsilang (March of the New Society) a patriotic hymn during the Ferdinand Marcos administration
AFP on the March March past of the Armed Forces of the Philippines


Thailand's king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is a march composer. His most famous march piece, "Royal Guards March", is played by military bands during the Thai Royal Guards parade at the Royal Plaza at Bangkok every 2nd of December yearly. It reflects the use of German and British military band influences in Thai military music.

North Korea

North Korean marches are heavily influenced by Soviet propaganda music. Most of the marches are dedicated to the party and to their revolution. Use of a grandiose brass sound is almost always present in the music.

South Korea

South Korea is heavily influenced by European marches, and use of brass is less common than North Korean counterpart. Some of the marches have melodies of famous 'Arirang' sound as every local area have different music of 'Arirang'. One such example is Milyang Arirang March by Hee-jo Kim[3] Another such example is Arirang Nation by MunKyu Hwang[4] US 7th Infantry division which have been deployed in Korea have used its own version of arirang march and since has been used by both Korean military and US military in Korea.[5][6]

Latin American march music

Although inspired by German, Spanish and French military music, marches of South and Central America are unique in melody and instrumentation.

Argentine marches are inspired by its military history and the influx of European immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. Cayetano Alberto Silva's "San Lorenzo march" is an example that combines German and French military musical influences. Other examples include the "Avenue of the Camelias" March and the March of the Malvinas, used during the Falklands War and in military parades and ceremonies.

Colombian military march music, like "The National Army of Colombia Hymn", "Commandos March" and "Hymn of the Colombian Navy" is an adaptation of the European and the American march styles.

Venezuela's "The Indio and the Conquistador" is the official marchpast of the Military Academy of Venezuela. It is more famous for being played in slow time in military parades and ceremonies. Also famous is the official double march of the National Armed Forces of Venezuela's special forces and airborne units, "Carabobo Reveille", and the "Slope Arms" March, played in ceremonies featuring the Flag of Venezuela and the first march in the beginning of parades. Marches like these (including the anthem of the 114th Armored Battalion "Apure Braves", "Fatherland Beloved") show British, American and Prussian influence.

Mexican marches, like the "March of the Heroic Military College", "Airborne Fusiliers March", "National Defense March" and the "Viva Mexico March", are all inspired by American, Spanish, and French military music but have a faster beat.

Cuban military marches are inspired by both American, Spanish and Soviet military music. Other Latin American marches are inspired by both European and Native American influences, such as the Peruvian marches "Los peruanos Pasan" and "Sesquicentenario" and the Ecuadorian military march "Paquisha".

Marches from Chile are a mix of European march music especially the German march tradition. "Old Banners", the official march of the Chilean Army, is one such example. Several German, British and French marches (and even the US march Semper Fidelis) are also used by military and civil bands in parades and ceremonies most especially during national holidays.

American March Music In The 21st Century

Although march music is no where near as popular as it used to be in the 19th and 20th centuries, it still plays a major part in high school, and college marching bands. The music is mainly played by military style bands at American Football games, but is also a popular choice at concerts. The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band is a popular military band at the collegiate level.[7]

There are not very many march "composers" anymore, but there are a few upcoming composers, such as:

See also


  1. See, e.g., F. W. Meacham.
  3. Milyang Arirang March 밀양아리랑 행진곡 密陽アリランマーチ. YouTube. 19 February 2008. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  4. South Korean Military March - Arirang Nation : 아리랑겨레. YouTube. 20 August 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  5. 7th Infantry Division (United States)
  6. 제3회 정기연주회 아리랑행진곡앵콜. YouTube. 25 April 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2015.

Further reading

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