Singing in a round is one of the most basic yet complex methods of performing music. A musical round is a polyphonic method of singing where two or more voices repeat the same phrase at different times, creating harmonic layers.
Polyphonic music textures have two different musical ideas going on at the same time. On the other hand, monophonic phrases follow one melody, although they can be in the form of a chord.
A round is actually a simpler method of composing technique called counterpoint. When you sing rounds with a group of people, you notice that some parts counter each other well and even have elements of harmony that allow all the sections to blend together.
This is a form of what is referred to as imitation counterpoint. The most common form of a round is referred to as a catch, where the melody repeats perpetually and is sung by multiple voices in the same octave.
Catches go as far back as the 16th century when secular music was sung among communities for entertainment. A popular stand-out was called "Catch That Catch Can" by baroque composer John Hilton.
These types of rounds were such a big deal back in the day that places like England formed Noblemen and Gentlemen's Catch Clubs in the 1700s, where prizes and awards were highly sought.
One standout round song everyone learns at a young age is "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", which is a very easy melody to get stuck in anyone's head, especially a kid. Most rounds for children last for about four bars and have simple lyrics that kids will easily pick up.
Other examples include "Three Blind Mice" and "Frere Jacques" (which I'm not sure I knew how to read as a kid).
As you can imagine, most kid's rounds are very happy-go-lucky in nature, with upbeat, major melodies that can bring good vibes to the atmosphere.
Rounds aren't just for children to enjoy, besides the fact that many parents find a lot of fun singing along to rounds for kids too.
Rounds were big among adults, as I mentioned, with catches, and even prominent in classical compositions like Pachelbel's Canon.
In more recent years, round singing has made its way into pop culture through hit songs, including The Beach Boys' classic "God Only Knows" song ending and The Wailin' Jennys' "Bird Song" ending.
I mentioned Pachelbel's Canon, which is a type of round, but not all canons are rounds. A round is more like a type of cannon, and a canon is a type of counterpoint composition.
It can get pretty confusing since many people like to interchange the words canon and round, but they aren't the same.
While rounds are simple types of canons, you can also have more complex cannons, including canon by inversion, internal canons, and retrograde canons.
Another term that gets often confused with the term round is fugue, which is a type of counterpoint writing as well.
The confusion comes from the fact that throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, all types of cannons, including rounds, were simply referred to as fugues.
While rounds simply follow one melody, fugues introduce something like a small thematic motif that may come and repeatedly go throughout a composition but also have many other melodic phrases in the overall work. Rounds focus only on the repeated melody.
In summary, singing in a round is a really neat way to perform music with others. It involves multiple voices repeating the same phrase at different times, which creates a harmonious melody.
It's both simple and complex at the same time, and it's a type of polyphonic music texture that has been around for centuries.
Kids love singing rounds like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Frere Jacques", but adults can enjoy them too. Rounds have been used in classical compositions, pop music, and even in competitions in places like England.
Although rounds are often confused with canons and fugues, they are a simpler form of counterpoint composition that focuses on repeating a melody.
Singing in a round is a fun and fascinating way to create music with others, and its history and versatility make it an important aspect of music education and appreciation.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page. As an Amazon Associate, Yona Marie earns from qualifying purchases. Amazon and other affiliate products are recommended to genuinely help readers and keep this site up and running as well.