What is a Strophic Song?

Strophic Form in Music Theory

Simply defined, a strophic song is a type of song that has the same melody across each stanza, or strophe, but different lyrics for each stanza. The strophic form is sometimes referred to as the AAA song form, alluding to its repetitive nature. Another name for the strophic song is the one-part song form because each part of the song features one melody. 

As one of the earliest song forms, the simple strophic form is a durable musical template that has been used by artists across the centuries.

Its ability to extend a piece through repetition makes any strophic songs easy to remember.  

Through-Composed Song

The strophic form is the opposite of the through-composed song. This song form has a different melody for every stanza. 

Etymology

The word "strophic" derives from the Greek word, "strophe", which means "turn".

Refrains

While a strophic song is defined by having new lyrics in each stanza, this song form can include a refrain. A refrain is a lyrical line that is repeated in each stanza. The line is typically repeated at the end of every verse. However, a refrain can also appear at the beginning or middle of the stanza.

Song Examples

The strophic form can be seen in art songs, ballads, carols, hymns, country songs and folk songs. Not only across genre, but strophic songs have been composed across time.

Strophic songs composed in the 1800s or earlier include "Silent Night" and "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night".

 "O Susanna" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" are examples of older strophic songs that have a refrain.

More contemporary examples of strophic songs would be Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line", Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin", or Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair".

Because the strophic song form is so basic, it is used in a lot of children's songs.

Starting at a young age, you were probably already exposed to the music theory concept of strophic form with songs like "Old MacDonald" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb".