After completing this lesson, you will be able to
What is Texture?
One definition of texture refers to a "structure of interwoven fibers." In music, texture refers to the way multiple voices (or instruments) interact in a composition. One may also think of texture as a description of musical hierarchy: which voice is most prominent? Are all the voices equal?
Four Types of Texture in Music
Although there are multiple ways of describing texture in music, we will focus on four particular types:
Literally meaning "one sound," monophonic texture (noun: monophony) describes music consisting of a single melodic line. Whether it is sung/played by one person or many, as long as the same notes and rhythms are being performed, monophonic texture results.
Where might you encounter monophonic texture?
Here's an example of a monophonic melody. Recognize the tune?
A graphic representation of monophony may look like this:
Polyphonic texture ("many sounds;" noun: polyphony) describes a musical texture in which two or more melodic lines of relatively equal importance are performed simultaneously. This is a fairly complex style which served as a proving ground for composers from around 1500-1800. It is important to note that a group of singers are required in polyphonic music, but polyphony can be performed on some instruments-such as the piano, organ, and guitar-by a single musician.
Related terms include counterpoint and imitation.
Where might one encounter polyphonic texture?
Here's the tune from the monophonic example, but performed in a polyphonic style. Note the imitation effect as each voice enters with the same melody, but entering at different times. (You should hear three voices.)
A graphic representation of polyphony may look like this:
Homophonic (or homophony) is the texture we encounter most often. It consists of a single, dominating melody that is accompanied by chords. Sometimes the chords move at the same rhythm as the melody; other times the chords are made up of voices that move in counterpoint to each other. The important aspect is that the chords are subservient to the melody.
Where might one encounter homophonic texture?
Here's that tune again, performed in a homophonic style. Note how the chords supply rhythmic support and harmony, but it's the melody that remains supreme.
A graphic representation of homophony may look like this:
Heterophonic texture is rarely encountered in western music. It consists of a single melody, performed by two or more musicians, with slight or not-so-slight variations from performer to performer. These variations usually result from ornamentation being added spontaneously by the performers. Heterophony is mostly found in the music of nonwestern cultures such as Native American, Middle Eastern, and South African.
A graphic representation of heterophony may look like this:
A Final Note
It is not always easy to detect the texture of a piece of music. Whereas monophonic is fairly transparent, polyphony and homophony often sound similar and may need further investigation to differentiate. It is easy to generalize that all popular styles are homophonic, but polyphony occurs occasionally as a result of the interaction of various parts. On the other hand, orchestral music-such as a symphony-may sound polyphonic, but very often there is a dominant melody; it's just obscured by the busyness of the accompanying parts. Also, orchestral music sometimes contains moments of monophonic texure to emphasize a particular melody. Careful listening and practice will aid in the discernment of musical texture.