What is Musical Texture?

What is Musical Texture?

Music is everywhere, so much so that we forget how complex it really is. Normally, these complexities aren't too important for folks outside the music industry, but those who want to write or create wonderful music need a better understanding.

Those complexities become vital for people within the industry, and musical texture is one of those things you should understand well enough.

If you scour through internet land, you'll find overly complicated explanations. While it may be important to get to know musical textures intimately, it's not something you'll learn in one article. You'll need multiple lessons on the subject.

Firstly, there are four types of musical textures. They are as follows:

  • Monophonic
  • Homophonic
  • Polyphonic
  • Heterophonic

What Exactly is Musical Texture?

Most people know or have an idea of what it is. They can't explain it in technical terms, nor can they use this to make a musical piece better, but people know what it is. When a musical piece is busy because many instruments are being used or many singers sing in disarray it feels stuffed.

When this happens, someone might say the musical piece is thick or too busy. Technically, this person is talking about musical texture. If the musical piece has almost no instrument or feels very minimalist, then someone might say the piece is thin or very simple.

Again, this person is talking about musical texture. Texture plays a big role in music, and understanding this could help you create unforgettable musical pieces.

Monophonic Texture

The first type of texture that we should go over is the simplest form: monophonic. The word has roots in the Greek language. It means "one sound" or a singular sound.

In essence, a monophonic textured musical piece uses one line of melody. There will be no harmony, nor will there be any sort of accompaniment to help aid or pop the melody a bit. It'll just be the melody, pure and simple.

Monophonic music is the oldest form of music in history. People in the past weren't forming large orchestras. The music was quite simplistic. This kind of music was popular throughout Ancient Greece; it was the only type of music known at the time.

In fact, early church music, like Gregorian Chant music, was written in this form. Certain scriptures in the Bible suggest that music for this being was as simple as possible. Knowing all that tells you how important monophonic music was and is.

Some composers today work to create wonderfully and emotionally complex pieces of this texture. Some composers are successful, and if you need proof, listen to Debussy's "Syrinx."

Still, that kind of music is rarely done anymore. Maybe you'll hear a monophonic piece last for a few seconds in a contemporary song, but it's rare to find a completely monophonic song. It's more likely that you'll hear this kind of music informally. Maybe you'll hear a crowd sing "We Are the Champions" in unison at a concert, which technically is monophonic, but you won't hear an entire song that way anymore.

It's true that in that scenario people will sing in different octaves, but as long as they sing in unison, it's still monophonic. Things can change quickly. If a band joins in, it's no longer monophonic. If a singer in the crowd starts to harmonize a bit, then it's no longer monophonic. It's a little more complex.

Homophonic Texture

Homophonic is another word with roots in ancient Greece. The word means "same-sounding" or "having the same sound." When an instrument or a singer accompanies the melody, you've got a homophonic sound. It has to be an accompaniment though and nothing else.

If you're wondering what that means, that's okay. A homophonic textured musical piece has an accompaniment that moves with the melody. It doesn't move against it nor does it introduce a new rhythm. Sometimes, this type of texture is referred to as homorhythmic since there are no other rhythms.

When it's done right, it can be a magical experience. A lot of acapella groups utilize this type of musical texture to bring life to beautiful musical arrangements. This isn't to say that you won't hear other songs utilize this because you will.

It should be pointed out that the homophonic texture is sometimes broadened a bit, especially in modern musical terms.

While true homophonic texture only includes one rhythm, some folks do allow musical pieces that have varying rhythms to be described as homophonic as long as the second texture more or less follows the first melody. Every so often, this is referred to as a melody and accompaniment to illustrate that they aren't the same.

This type of musical texture was very popular in the Classical period. If you want some examples, you'll find them there, but you don't have to dig so far in the past. The truth is that today's pop music uses melody and accompaniment quite often. You'll hear slight variations in the rhythms presented though they still follow each other.

Polyphonic Texture

You're starting to notice the pattern, right? Every one of these words has Greek roots, and this one is no different. The word polyphonic simply means "several sounds."

It may sound simple enough to understand, but it's complex. What you got here is a musical piece with several voices or instruments. The sounds are blended in a contrasting fashion and have independent rhythms.

When we first mention this, some folks don't see how this is possible. There just doesn't seem to be a way for varying instruments or voices with their own independent goals to blend to create a cohesive piece of art.

We know and you'd be right, except the music is magical that way. Sometimes, sounds and rhythms that don't seem to have any sort of relation feel like they couldn't exist without each other when the musical piece is done right.

A good example of this type of music is "O Magnum Mysterium" by Tomás Luis de Victoria. It's a wonderful piece to not only hear but study for its many complexities.

Of course, if you can't get enough of this type of music, then it might be a good idea to listen to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, which are filled with complex polyphonic pieces.

Heterophonic Texture

This brings us to heterophonic textured musical pieces. This is one of the rarest types of musical textures, but when it's done right, it has the power to change lives.

Maybe that's just us talking. At Prodigies, we love music so much that it continues to change our lives no matter the texture.

Heterophonic music follows one melody. That melody is played throughout the song, but there's a catch.

One voice or an instrument comes in. That voice or instrument blows everything out of the water.

These additional voices or instruments will rift upon that original melody, remixing it and transforming it as the original continues to be played. It's most famously used in jazz but not only.

If you want classical examples, then head to the Baroque period, but concentrate on cantatas. You'll find some interesting examples of heterophonic music. You'll also find examples in folk music and Indonesia's gamelan. It's a complex form of music that deserves to be understood.

Yes, sometimes, this type of music is hard to appreciate, but those with an ear for music will likely be impressed by how unique heterophonic music can sound and how exciting it can be to play, especially live when variations occur on the spot.

Back to Musical Composing

The information above can blend with the following.

  • Music theory
  • Composition
  • Psychomotor development
  • Reading music

This means you don't have to follow any rules. As long as the musical piece works, then it works. No song has to be strictly one musical texture, nor does it have to blend them. It could be anything the composer feels it should be.

Still, it's important to understand everything about music, including all the rules. These rules can be broken by those who understand music enough to break them in a way that makes musical sense.


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