Types of Musical Texture

JS Bach

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Fabric is just one of many materials we describe as having a texture. It can be thick or thin, shiny or dull, rough or smooth. We also use the word texture in a similar manner when describing the particular combination of tempo, melody, and harmony in a piece of music. A composition might be described as "dense," meaning it features multiple layers of instruments, or "thin," meaning it is distinguished by a single layer, whether a voice or instrumental accompaniment.

Learn how texture is used in a composition and how these layers are related:

Monophonic

These types of compositions are distinguished by the use of a single melodic line. An example of this is the plainchant or plainsong, a form of medieval church music that involves chanting. Plainchant doesn't use any instrumental accompaniment. Instead, it uses words that are sung. It was around the year 600 when Pope Gregory the Great (also known as Pope Gregory 1) wanted to compile all the different types of chants into one collection. This compilation would later be known as Gregorian Chant

A well-known composer of medieval monophonic songs was the 13th-century French monk Moniot d'Arras, whose themes were both pastoral and religious.

Heterophonic

This texture is best described as a form of monophony, in which one basic melody is played or sung by two or more parts simultaneously in a different rhythm or tempo.

Heterophony is characteristic of many forms of non-Western music, like the Gamelan music of Indonesia or Japanese Gagaku.

Polyphonic

This musical texture refers to the use of two or more melodic lines, which are distinct from each other. The French chanson, a polyphonic song that was originally for two to four voices, is an example.

Polyphony began when singers started improvising with parallel melodies, with emphasis on fourth (ex. C to F) and fifth (ex. C to G) intervals. This marked the start of polyphony, wherein several musical lines were combined. As singers continued experimenting with melodies, polyphony became more elaborate and complex. Perotinus Magister (also called Perotin the Great) is believed to be one of the first composers to use polyphony in his compositions, which he wrote in the late 1200s. Fourteenth-century composer Guillaume de Machaut also composed polyphonic pieces

Biphonic

This texture contains two distinct lines, the lower sustaining a constant pitch or tone (often described as a droning sound), with the other line creating a more elaborate melody above it. In classical music, this texture is a hallmark of Bach's pedal tones. Biphonic texture is also found in contemporary pop musical compositions like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love".

Homophonic

This type of texture refers to a main melody accompanied by chords. During the Baroque period, music became homophonic, meaning it was based on one melody with harmonic support coming from a keyboard player. Modern keyboard composers whose works have homophonic texture include the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz and the "King of Ragtime," Scott Joplin.

Homophony is also evident when musicians sing while accompanying themselves on guitar. Much of today's jazz, pop, and rock music, for instance, is homophonic.