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What Is Texture in Music?

This author is a professional trombonist, conductor, and educator. He has a long career in music and writes about his passion for music.

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The Concept of Texture

Using our human senses, we can detect a certain texture by a rather long list of descriptive words. A few of these might be rough, smooth, fuzzy, gritty, fishy, floral, sour, pungent, tart, sweet, spicy, and savory, or even bumpy.

Our senses are hard at work 24/7 to keep us going.

  • Sensory neurons in the nose detect odors. How about the smell of breakfast in the morning?
  • Our taste buds on the tongue send messages to the brain through cranial nerves.
  • Sensors in the skin transmit Information about texture to the somatosensory cortex in the brain. This is the sense of touch.
  • Using sight, we control inputs to the brain. Signals are sent to the back of the brain to an area called V1. They are transformed to correspond to edges in the visual scenes.

So, in music, the texture is like a nice plate of lasagne: multiple layers of delicious food. (I always relate things to food for some reason.) Each layer has its own identity. If you don't like lasagne, how about a big, five-layer chocolate cake? Same thing, just a little sweeter. Ok! I think you get it.

The Different Types of Musical Texture

For the purpose of this article, we will concentrate on detecting texture in music. Obviously, through the sense of hearing, we can describe sounds. But we want to get a bit more exact when it comes to the music we hear.

There are five basic elements of music, called rhythm, melody, harmony, form, and timbre. Texture in music works within these five basic elements.

Musical texture is the way of describing how a piece of music or sound is organized. It is a music element that evaluates layers of musical sounds. A thick texture refers to a piece of music with many layers of the sound of harmonies and melodies being played together. A thin texture has fewer layers of sound.

To be more specific, we will learn the four different types of musical texture. They are:

  1. Monophonic
  2. Polyphonic
  3. Homophonic
  4. Hetrophonic

As you learn these new terms you will listen to music with a better understanding of how the music is put together.

1. Monophonic Texture

Monophonic is the most basic and simplest. It refers to a piece of music with one layer and no accompaniments. It is usually one tune or melody, sung or played by a single person or in unison.

As the term suggests, ‘mono’ means ‘one’ and ‘phonic ‘relates to 'sound,' so monophonic means playing one sound. Most of the simple songs taught to children are monophonic, for example, 'Happy Birthday’ or ‘Alphabet Song.'

Other examples of monophonic texture include; a single person whistling a tune, a ground of people singing a song in unison without instruments or harmonies, and a single bugle sounding.

Example of Monophonic Texture

Pop Goes The Weasel

Pop Goes The Weasel

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2. Homophonic Texture

Homophonic is a bit more complex. Simply said, when a melody is reinforced by harmony, the texture is said to be homophonic. ‘Homo’ is a Greek word meaning ‘similar’ or 'same.' Therefore, in homophonic textures, the music consists of different notes playing but are all based on a similar melody.

In a piece of music with homophonic texture, one of the music layers grabs the attention while the others stay in the background. Therefore, the melody will remain prominent while the others create a harmonic background accompaniment.

Examples of homophony include; a singer backed by strumming chords or a guitar picking, a jazz combo with a piano or a drum set, and bass offering the background rhythm.

Also, remember that homophonic texture can include multiple singers or instruments all playing the same rhythm, but playing different notes, creating harmony and chord changes. This is referred to as homorhythmic texture or block chord texture and is mostly found in choral music, with most parts having the same rhythms simultaneously.

Barbershop Quartets

One of the most common and popular genres for this texture is Barbershop Quartet music. It consists of modern harmonic techniques sung by four voices. The four voices move in the same rhythmic motion with the melody being the prominent voice.

Below is a fantastic example of homophonic texture. Listen to the four voices blend together with great harmonies supporting the melody. I picked this example because of Mike Rowe. If you are familiar with Mike, he is the guy that has a dirty job. Great performance!

Barbershop Quartet With Mike Rowe - A Dirty Job!

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Add to Your Home Library

One of my favorite music books is called What to Listen for in Music by the great American composer Aaron Copland. This book explains what most people miss out on when listening to music. He explains the mechanics behind listening to our music—any music! I highly recommend this book so you can become a better listener.

3. Polyphonic Texture

‘Poly’ is a Greek word meaning ‘multiple' or 'many.' Polyphonic refers to a piece of music with multiple independent melody lines playing at once. Multiple independent layers occur at the same time.

Think of it as two or more parts doing their own thing. A piece of music can also be described as polyphonic if you play the same melody but start in staggered intervals so that it sounds like multiple different melodies.

Polyphonic textures are common in children’s songs. Such a song is ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat where everybody sings the same melody but starts at different times. Also, most music for instrumental music groups such as orchestras or bands performs polyphonic texture.

A great example is a video below. This is the March - Semper Fidelis by John Philip Sousa. Listen to this piece and observe as he builds a polyphonic texture having several melodies being played at the same time. Performance by the President's Own Marine Band

Multiple Melody Polyphonic Texture

4. Heterophonic Texture

‘Hetero’ is a Greek word meaning ‘different.' Heterophonic texture describes two or more versions of the same melody playing simultaneously. The texture is characterized by one melody that is being performed in different variations at the same time. Music with heterophonic texture is most common in non-western songs and relatively rare in western music.

Heterophony can be found in the Cajun, Bluegrass, Zydeco, and 'mountain music' traditions. The tune is played by two different instruments simultaneously, with each adding the ornaments, embellishments, and flourishes that characterize the instrument.

Central Eurasian, Middle Eastern, Native American, and South Asia have a heterophonic texture. Singers or/and instruments play a single melody simultaneously but give it different ornaments or embellishments.

Watch the video below to get a visual grasp on these four musical textures.

Final Thoughts and Summary

We hope this information about music texture is helpful to you. Generally, music texture refers to how melody, tempo, and harmony combine in music composition, influencing its overall sound quality. It describes the overall sound quality of a piece of music. The number of layers and complexity levels are measured by music texture. The thicker the texture, the more layers available.

Also, keep in mind that a piece of music can have many different textures. It can begin with a single melody (monophonic), then have a harmonic accompaniment (homophonic) and finally have a second melody towards its end (polyphony).

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Reginald Thomas

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