Types of Musical Texture

Photo of Scott Joplin
Works by composer Scott Joplin (pictured) have homophonic texture. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Musical texture refers to the number of layers, as well as the type of layers, used in a composition and how these layers are related. Texture may be monophonic, polyphonic or homophonic.

Monophonic

Refers to 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.

Moniot d'Arras was one of the composers who wrote monophonic songs. 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 will later be known as Gregorian Chant. Listen to a music sample of Gregorian chant.

Polyphonic

Refers to two or more melodic lines. An example of this is the French chanson, a polyphonic song that was originally for 2 to 4 voices. 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 is believed to be one of the first composers to use polyphony in his compositions. Composer Guillaume de Machaut also wrote polyphonic music.

Listen to a music sample of polyphonic music.

Homophonic

Refers to a main melody accompanied by chords. A musician singing while accompanying himself with his guitar is an example of homophony. During the Baroque period, music became homophonic, meaning it was based on one melody with harmonic support coming from a keyboard player.

Composers whose works have homophonic texture include the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz and the "King of Ragtime" Scott Joplin. Listen to a music sample of homophonic music.