Adult Learners

What is Texture in Music?

By Hannah Kendall
What is texture in music? Learn all about musical texture.

What does texture mean in music? Learn all about it below

Texture in music refers to the relationship of melodic and harmonic elements in a musical piece. Think of texture as the surface appearance of music. It refers to the many layers of instruments that combine to form a piece of music. In this article, we’ll describe the types of texture in music, how to identify them, and examples of musical texture. 

What does texture sound like?

Imagine you’re listening to a song and you hear a strumming guitar, a voice singing, a drum, and a piano playing chords. Each of these instruments has a different timbre and brings a different layer to the piece. What these instruments do within the music determines the texture of music. Perhaps the voice is singing a melody while the piano and guitar harmonize with chords. The drums add a rhythmic layer to the music, adding interest to the melody. This would be an example of homophonic music, a melody accompanied by a harmony. 

Texture refers to the layers we hear in music and the relationship between these layers. Texture is important because it describes how the different musical elements combine to create the overall sound, emotion, and character of a piece.

Types of texture in music

People might describe musical texture as sounding thick, thin, dense, or sparse. While these basic descriptions can help describe texture, musicians formally use four common terms to specifically describe the type of musical texture:

Monophony – Monophonic texture in music is where a single melodic line is played or sung without any harmony or accompaniment. While we rarely hear entirely monophonic songs on the radio, monophony is the oldest form of music. It was used in Ancient Greece, in the middle ages as Gregorian chant, and is still found in many traditional music styles today. 

Homophony – Homophony refers to a musical texture where there is a clear melody and harmony. In homophony, multiple voices or parts move together in harmony typically with one dominant melody supported by accompanying chords or harmonies. Homophonic music is one of the most common musical structures in Western music, commonly heard in pop, rock, folk, jazz, and classical music. 

Polyphony – Polyphony is a musical texture where multiple melody lines are heard simultaneously. Polyphony is commonly found in Renaissance and Baroque music. Polyphony is often called counterpoint. 

Heterophony – Heterophony in music refers to the same melody being played by two instruments with each instrument playing a different version of the melody. It is characterized by slight variations of a single melodic line and is often thought of as a more complex version of monophony. Heterophony is not as common as homophony or even polyphony in Western music, but can be heard in traditional Eastern music. 

How do you describe texture in music?

When describing the texture of music, musicians use monophony, homophony, polyphony or heterophony to be the most accurate. However, texture can be described in more general terms such as:

  • Dense
  • Complex
  • Smooth 
  • Rough
  • Sparse
  • Rich
  • Simple

Listen to your favorite songs and think about what words come to mind when describing the texture of the piece.

How do you identify texture in music?

To identify musical texture, listen carefully to understand how different elements of the piece work together. Analyze the relationship of the melody, harmony, and rhythm. How many different instruments do you hear? How many melodies do you hear? If you hear just one melody, the music is homophonic. If you hear multiple melodies, what is the relationship between the melodies? If there is one melody that clearly stands out from the others throughout the whole piece, the texture is still homophonic. If several melodies are heard, all with equal importance, the texture is polyphonic. If you hear multiple variations of the same melody over multiple voices, the music is heterophonic. 

Examples of texture in music

Monophony – Monophonic texture is as simple as someone whistling a tune to themselves or a single bugle playing “Taps.” A group of singers all singing a single melody without any harmony or instruments is also considered monophony because they’re all singing the same melody line. Gregorian chanting during the Medieval era is an early example of monophony.

Whitney Houston’s intro to “I Will Always Love You” is another example of monophony. She begins the song with only her voice. This creative choice emphasizes her lyrics and brings attention to the power and drama of her singing. 

Homophony – Homophonic texture can be a jazz combo with bass, piano and drums or even a church piano player accompanying a congregation. A great example of homophony is “Let it Be” by the Beatles. The song begins with only a vocal melody line and piano accompaniment. Later on in the song, more voices and instruments are added and create a fuller texture. However the song remains homophonic because of the relationship of the melody to the accompaniment. 

Polyphonic Texture – Polyphonic texture is most often heard in fugues, canons, and rounds. In “The Cat’s Fugue” by Domenica Scarlatti, notice how each hand is playing a distinct melody. Each melody could stand on its own; however, when put together, the music sounds as if the melodies are having a conversation. The name of the piece is said to have originated from Scarlatti’s cat Pulcinella who often walked across the keyboard. It is said that one day Pulcinella walked across the keyboard, inspiring the motif heard in the fugue. Check out our Hoffman Academy Store for more fugues!

Heterophonic Texture – Heterophonic texture is most commonly heard in Eastern music. For example, heterophonic can be found in Arabic classical music, Indonesian gamelan, and traditional Japanese, Indian, and Thai music. 

Listen to Sudha Ragunathan perform Raga Abheri. Both Sudha and the violin are playing the same melodic line, yet each performer varies the melody with their own embellishments, improvisations and ornamentation. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about musical texture! The next time you listen to music, try identifying what kind of texture you hear. The more you develop the skill of identifying texture, the better musician and listener you’ll become. To learn more about music theory, sign up for our Premium membership today!

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