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What Is Monophonic Texture In Music?

Once again, we travel back in time to delve into the Ancient Greek language to discuss an ancient musical term. The term “Monophonic” comes from the combination of two Greek words. ‘Phonic’ which means “about sound,” and ‘Mono’ which means “one or as a single.” In the most basic terms, the definition of monophonic is “one sound.”

In this article, I am going to consider “What Is Monophonic Texture In Music?” and give some explanations and a few examples. But before we do that, let’s just remind ourselves exactly what texture in music is.

Musical Texture

The term musical texture refers to different layers of music. And more especially how they combine to produce the final result. There are four kinds of texture in music.

  • Monophonic.
  • Homophonic.
  • Polyphonic.
  • Heterophonic.

We are going to take a look at what is the simplest kind of musical texture – Monophonic.

Monophonic Texture

Most musical terms can be explained quite easily. But musical texture can cause problems when you try to describe it. The sound of a piece of music is sometimes referred to as having a “thin” texture with only a few instruments. Or you might hear it called “thick” when hearing an orchestra play a piece.

These descriptions have an element of fact about them, but to me, hardly seem adequate. We really ought to try and use more descriptive language. After all, the texture of the music is an important thing. It creates emotions and feelings, whether it is thick or thin. Let’s start by understanding texture in musical terms.

What is Musical Texture?

What is Musical Texture

Some people say that texture is a way of describing the overall quality of a piece of music. I am not sure I go along with that if the quality refers to how good it is. And that is what quality usually refers to.

There’s a reason I say that judging quality by the texture of the music might not be accurate. That’s because some composers have written complete pieces of music that are monophonic. “Syrinx,” a solo piece for the flute by Debussy, is an example. 

It is interesting to hear the emotion that Debussy manages to create with just a solo line. Would people argue that the overall quality of the piece was low because it was a single instrument? I certainly would not.

What Does Texture Represent?

Texture represents how many layers of music there are. By layers, I mean the melody and harmony lines and how many you can hear at any given time. There could be just a few lines or layers, making it thin, or a full orchestra making it thick.

What are the aspects of the music that will affect the texture? Below are the main facts that affect the texture of music.

  • Type of instruments played.
  • The number of instruments.
  • Tempo.
  • Structure of the harmonies.
  • Musical genre.

Let’s move on to trying to define monophonic texture, or monophony as it is sometimes known.

Monophonic Texture

This can be defined as music where there is a single melodic sound, hence “one sound.” It is the oldest type of music that has existed. In fact, it was the only form of music that was performed in Ancient Greece.

But, as the history of music has moved on, it became very prevalent in the Gregorian chant. That is music where there is a single melody with no instruments or voice playing anything different. 

The moment that someone plays or sings something that is not the melody, hence something different, the texture ceases to be monophonic. Monophonic texture has to contain a single melody line without accompaniment or extra harmonies.

Do We Hear Monophonic Music Today?

Obviously, not as much as in the past because tastes change. But, through the centuries, there have been plenty of examples. 

The Baroque Period

Bach wrote a piece for violin and also another for flute. Both solo, monophonic pieces. They captured a simplicity that was so different from most of his other work.

The Classical Period

One of the greatest pieces of music of all time started with a monophonic section. But, then Beethoven’s 5th Symphony adds more textures as it progresses. Still, he returns us to the monophonic texture subtly at times throughout the piece.

The Romantic Period

The Debussy piece for the flute I have already mentioned. So, we can see that whilst not the most popular format, it has always been with us. Let’s come more up to date.

In Jazz

Yes, even in jazz, where chaos is often the term used to describe this genre. Soloing instruments flying in all directions at the same time as someone put it. 

But then you come across one of the genius players in saxophonist Sonny Rollins. He recorded an unaccompanied track called “It Could Happen To You” on one of his 1950s albums.

In Rock and Pop Music

Here as well, occasionally. Hard to ever subscribe a genre to the work of Stevie Wonder. His abilities transcend genres and put them all in a box entitled very good indeed. 

His masterpiece, “Sir Duke,” starts with a monophonic jazzy section played by several instruments. It then goes into almost what we might call a pop song. But still returns to the intro occasionally.

Unlikely Places

And what about football grounds in the UK? When the crowd starts to spontaneously sing together, is that monophonic music? To call it music might be an exaggeration. But the monophonic texture is certainly there as they are all singing the same thing at the same time.

How about at Christmas time when possibly a young member of the family sings a Christmas song? That is monophonic until someone else joins in on a guitar or a piano. It then ceases to be monophonic.

As Long As There is Just One Melody

As Long As There is Just One Melody

That is the main feature of monophonic texture in music. One melody line with no other melodies or harmonies, no matter how many instruments or voices are involved, as in the Gregorian Chants for voices or the opening to “Sir Duke” by instruments.

Even if you get people singing or playing in different octaves, as long as it is the same notes and they all play together, the texture is monophonic.

This is all part of the magic that is the theory of music. If you want to expand your musical knowledge and get a more thorough answer to “What is monophonic texture in music?” these are going to help.

Interested in Learning More About Music?

Let our experts lend you a hand. So, check out our handy articles on What is Texture In MusicWhat is Strophic Form In MusicMusical OrnamentsWhat Is Negative HarmonyWhat Is AABA Form In MusicThe Aeolian Mode: What Is It, and The Mixolydian Mode for more useful information.

Also, an instrument upgrade may be a big help. So, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Tenor Saxophones, the Best Alto Saxophones, the Best Cremona Violins, the Best Electric Violins, the Best Electric Cellos, the Best 88-Key Keyboards, and the Best Digital Pianos for Under $500 you can buy in 2023.

What Is Monophonic Texture In Music – Final Thoughts

Monophony or Monophonic texture is a place in any piece of music where you can only hear one melody. It hasn’t any accompaniment or harmony. Additionally, it can be part of a piece as with “the 5th” or Sir Duke. Or a complete work as with Sonny Rollins.

It can be an instrument playing a solo or a group of instruments. It can be a single voice, or it can be a choir. It can be played over a series of octaves. As long as they are all playing or singing the same notes at the same time, there is one melody without accompaniment. That is Monophony or Monophonic Texture.

Until next time, let your music play.

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About Jennifer Bell

Jennifer is a freelance writer from Montana. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and English, as well as an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Games and Simulation Design.

Her passions include guitar, bass, ukulele, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments she has been playing since at school. She also enjoys reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, yoga, eating well, and spending time with her two cats, Rocky and Jasper.

Jennifer enjoys writing articles on all types of musical instruments and is always extending her understanding and appreciation of music. She also writes science fiction and fantasy short stories for various websites and hopes to get her first book published in the very near future.

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