Samuel Brady and Mark Gotham
- Musical is the density of and interaction between a work’s different voices.
- is characterized by an unaccompanied melodic line.
- is characterized by multiple variants of a single melodic line heard simultaneously.
- is characterized by multiple voices harmonically moving together at the same pace.
- is characterized by multiple voices with separate melodic lines and rhythms.
- Most music does not conform to a single texture; rather, it can move between them.
is an important (and sometimes overlooked) aspect of music. There are many types of musical texture, but the four main categories used by music scholars are , , , and .
A texture is characterized by a single unaccompanied melodic line of music. Monophony involves all instruments playing or singing in unison, making it the simplest and most exposed of all musical textures. The first movement of Cello Suite no. 1 in G Major (1717) by Johann Sebastian Bach is an example of a monophonic texture. Notice how the solo cello line is the only voice in this work.
Now let’s listen to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (1955) by Pete Seeger. Note that Seeger’s voice is the only musical line; therefore, this work is a second example of monophony.
A texture is characterized by multiple variations of the same melodic line that are heard simultaneously across different voices. These variations can range from small to longer runs in a single voice, as long as the melodic material stays relatively constant.
Listen to “Ana Hasreti” (2001) by Göskel Baktagir, an example of Turkish classical music. Notice how the winds embellish the melody presented by the plucked strings. While the instruments play different embellishments, they present essentially the same melodic material.
Now listen to the traditional Irish reel “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” recorded by the Chieftains in 1978 (beginning at 0:50), and notice the slight variation between the melodic lines of the fiddle (violin) and the flute. This slight variation between the violin and flute presents a second example of heterophony.
A texture is characterized by having multiple voices moving together harmonically at the same pace. This is a very common texture. Many times, this takes the form of having a single melody that predominates, while other voices are used to fill out the harmonies. Homophony is sometimes further divided into two subcategories, and .
is a type of homophonic texture in which all voices move in an extremely similar or completely unison rhythm. This is most often seen in chorale-like compositions, where the melody and harmonies move together in .
Let’s listen to Six Horn Quartets: no. 6, Chorale (1910), written by Nikolai Tcherepnin. Notice how both the melody and harmony move mostly in block chords, creating a unified rhythm.
Now let’s listen to the folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme” recorded by The Longest Johns in 2018 (0:20–0:44). Remember that in a homorhythmic texture, there is a similarity of rhythm throughout all of the voices. In this example, there is a melody that stands out from the texture, but the voices still move in rhythmic unison.
Melody and Accompaniment
A texture is perhaps the most common type of homophony. This texture is characterized by a clear melody that is distinct from other supporting voices, which are called an accompaniment. Often the melody will have a different rhythm from the supporting voice(s).
Let’s listen to the second movement of Paul Hindemith’s Flute Sonata (1936). This example features a very clear melody (flute) and accompaniment (piano). Notice how the piano is never completely in rhythmic unison with the flute; however, it provides the role of accompaniment by filling out the texture harmonically.
Now let’s listen to “Misty” (1954), written by Erroll Garner and performed by Ella Fitzgerald. Notice how the piano accompanies the primary melody sung by Fitzgerald (the vocalist).
is characterized by multiple voices with separate melodic lines and rhythms. In other words, each voice has its own independent melodic line, and the independent voices blend together to create harmonies.
In Western classical music, polyphony is commonly heard in fugues, such as Fugue no. 5 in D Major (1951–1952), written by Dmitri Shostakovich. Notice how each individual melodic line is independent, yet the voices create harmonies overall when heard together.
This can also be heard in the final chorus of “I’ll Cover You – Reprise” from the Broadway musical Rent (1996), written by Jonathan Larson (2:20–2:45). Notice how there are three independent vocal layers, singing different melodies and rhythms, but working together to create new harmonies overall:
Most musical works have some variety in texture. For example, you may have heard a work that opened with a solo voice or instrument, then changed to a melody with accompaniment. There are many different possibilities!
- Terms That Describe Texture (Lumen)
- Texture in Music (Hello Music Theory)
- Texture in Music (learnmusictheory.net)
- Texture (Emory University)
- Texture (Robert Hutchinson)
- Texture (Phillip Magnuson)
- Four Types of Texture in Music (perennialmusicandarts.com)
- Interactive Musical Textures Worksheet (website, website)
- Study Guide to Texture and Worksheet (.pdf)
- Texture: Homophonic or Polyphonic? (website)
- Texture Composition Assignment, pp. 17–22 (.pdf)
- Identifying Textures (.pdf, .docx) Worksheet playlist
The density of and interaction between voices in a work.
A musical texture with a single, unaccompanied melodic line.
A musical texture with multiple simultaneous variants on a single melodic line.
A musical texture consisting of one melodic part (usually the topmost) and other subordinate accompanying parts. This includes chorale texture and melody-and-accompaniment texture.
A musical texture with multiple independent melodic voices, distinguished from one another through different rhythms and/or intervallic profiles. Also known as counterpoint. Polyphony may occur in many styles but is commonly associated with contrapuntal genres like fugues and canons.
Notes that decorate other, more structurally important notes. Embellishing tones are often not part of the prevailing chord. Types of embellishing tones include passing tones, neighbor tones, appoggiaturas, escape tones, pedal tones, suspensions, and anticipations.
Rhythmic unison among multiple parts.
A type of homophony in which one can clearly distinguish between melodic and supporting voices, usually with differing rhythms between them.
A chord in which all the notes are played simultaneously.