During a band rehearsal the bandmaster may ask when playing a march: Let’s start from the trio!

a) What is meant by this term?

b) where does it come from?


The trio in a march is a second contrasting section, often more lyrical in character and usually in the subdominant. Very often the first part consists of two sections or "strains", both repeated. The trio is the third strain.
Some marches end on the trio, some return to the first section. A classic example of a march that ends on the trio is Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever". An example of a march returning to the first section is Johann Strauss Senior's "Radetzky March".

The term was originally used in baroque minuets. There the trio would often actually be played by three instruments:

Around Lully's time it became a common practice to score this middle section for a trio (such as two oboes and a bassoon, as is common in Lully). As a result, this middle section came to be called the minuet's trio, even when no trace of such an orchestration remains.


A minuet was often included as the third movement in a classical symphony. The minuet later developed into the scherzo which usually also has a trio.

  • Are you sure you mean 'bombastic'? – Laurence Payne Oct 17 '19 at 9:31
  • If we want to describe the sections of a march in pejorative literary terms, I could suggest 'Bombastic' for the march, 'Unctuous' for the trio. More politely, 'Dramatic' and 'Lyrical'. – Laurence Payne Oct 17 '19 at 11:57
  • 1
    I'd suggest the "National Emblem" as being more a stereotypical example with more distinct 1st and 2nd strains and a Trio.. (Stars and Stripes repeats the trio three times, has breakup strains and the like.) companionmusic.com/pdf-band/National%20Emblem.pdf – Duston Oct 17 '19 at 14:37
  • @Duston Thank-you, "National Emblem" is an excellent example of the standard march form. I chose "The Stars and Stripes" as an example because it's something everybody knows, particularly the trio. – PiedPiper Oct 17 '19 at 15:00
  • The trios of military marches (e.g. "The Stars and Stripes Forever") often consist of a C strain-breakstrain-C strain-breakstrain-C strain pattern. The last 2 sections are often chopped off in early-20th-century American solo piano marches, from my findings. There's also the C strain-C strain-D strain-D strain pattern for the trios of regimental marches (e.g. Sousa's "Manhattan Beach"). – Dekkadeci Oct 17 '19 at 16:01

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