We might not consider music to have a texture. Material has a texture; food has texture; buildings and roads have texture. Essentially anything we can touch has texture. So how can music have texture? We can’t touch it or physically feel it. So, let’s see if I can answer the question, “What is texture in music?”
One of the ways in which we describe texture is its density or thickness. The obvious example is whether it is soft or hard. Some things may have different layers, which will also relate to their density and their texture.
Music is a little like that. When we use the term texture in music, we refer to its density. That is the number of layers that it may have and the way they are related.
Because we can’t touch music, what musical texture describes is how it sounds rather than how it feels.
Music has materials
Just like food or objects, music has materials that make up the whole. These are the tempo, melody, harmony. They give the sound depth and width. It can even relate to the distance between the lowest and highest notes. Or even the number of parts or voices involved.
Another aspect that has an effect is the timbre of the voice or voices. All of these add to the texture of the music and its audible structure. We have ways of describing this experience.
- Thick texture, has lots of instruments or voices being played together.
- A Thin texture is where there are very few parts at the same time.
- An Open texture is spacious and roomy, where there is plenty of room between the top and lower notes.
- Closed texture, the opposite of open where all the notes played or sung are close together.
Describing Music Textures
There are seven definitions of musical textures. Understanding these definitions will help you to answer the question, “What is texture in music?”
- Monophonic – A single melody line.
- Biphonic – Where there are two lines of music with the lower line just consisting of a drone.
- Polyphonic, or sometimes called Counterpoint – Multiple melodic voices. These are independent of each other but still rely on each other in the context of the music.
- Homophonic – Simply, a melody plus its accompaniment. This could be multiple levels or voices, but where one is considered the main part.
- Homorhythmic – Multiple voices that have the same rhythm. Sometimes referred to as chordal.
- Heterophonic – Two voices or sometimes more, performing the same melody but each with variations.
- Silence. No sound at all.
I am going to look at the three most common. These are Monophonic, Polyphonic, and Homophonic.
Of the three I am going to look at, Monophonic is the easiest to come to terms with. The word Monophonic is a good description. In Greek, “Mono” means one, and “Phonic” means about or related to sound.
A Monophonic texture has just a melody or tune that is sung by one person. It can be sung by more, providing they all sing in unison with no variations. There are no harmonies and no accompaniment, and no other musical lines involved at all. A Monophonic texture is clearly recognized in things like children’s nursery rhymes.
Example: Twinkle twinkle little Star
Another descriptor with Greek roots. “Mono,” as we saw, means one. “Homo” means similar or the same. This then is a texture where there can be different notations being played. But they must all be based around and linked to the same melodic structure of the music.
We find this a lot in today’s music. Furthermore, it represents the most commonly used musical texture of the music we hear today. If a singer sings a tune with a guitar or piano in accompaniment, that is an example of Homophonic texture.
You can also have a Homophonic texture where there might be multiple voices or instruments. They could all play different notes, and they would create harmonies. But they must stay in the same rhythm.
Example: Barbershop quartet singers.
Once again, some Greek. “Poly” means multiple or many. Polyphonic then may be described as when there are lots of melody lines. They are all independent, and they are all occurring at once.
A simple and very basic example would be when children might sing a round like “Frere Jacques.” The Melody is the same, but the singers commence at different times. This creates the feeling of many independent melodies.
More complicated than Monophonic or Homophonic
You will sometimes get a piece of music playing, and a counterpoint or second melody might be introduced. Imagine a piece being played and a solo instrument or another singer joins in with a countermelody.
The original theme will remain, but there are now two separated melodies at the same time. The two musical parts are separated by melody and sometimes even by rhythm. Nevertheless, they are related by the harmonic relationship that connects them.
Johann Sebastian Bach
The polyphonic structure was a popular musical texture in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Bach was especially famous for his polyphonic works. He enjoyed the potential complexity of the finished piece.
Example: Fugue No. 17 in A-Flat Major by JS Bach.
A piece of music is not limited to having just one texture. It can be written so that it may start as Monophony or a single melody. An accompaniment could then join in to create Homophony. As you progress through the piece, a second melody could be added to create Polyphony.
Some materials that can help take you a stage further are The Principles and Practice of Modal Counterpoint, Hearing Homophony: Tonal Expectation at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford Studies in Music Theory), and Renaissance Polyphony (Cambridge Introductions to Music).
Want to Learn More About Music Theory?
Then let our experts lend you a hand. Have a look at our handy guides to Relative vs Parallel Minor, The Minor Scales, Musical Ornaments, What Is Theme And Variation In Music, The Aeolian Mode, The Dorian Mode, and The Scale Degree Names Explained for more helpful information.
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What is Texture In Music? – Conclusion
Texture is not a word that you would normally associate with music. The very word indicates touch and what we can actually feel. Music is not an object. It is not physical, so in the usual understanding of the word, it could have no texture.
But in music, the word is used to describe what is going on with the music. The number of layers it involves and if they relate to each other. That creates its overall sound. A fascinating and important subject.
Until next time, let your music play.