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4.4: Musical Texture

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    Music theorists often utilize texture as an element of music that helps guide understanding of the complex differences between the many genres of Western Art Music that were created over the past millennium. Musical texture is how melody and harmony are combined within a piece of music. Because texture is only concerned with these two elements it is not often used to analyze music from cultures that do not utilize harmony. It is important to understand that purely rhythmic (drumming) parts are not considered when analyzing the texture of a piece of music.

    There are three primary musical textures:

    Monophony- Monophonic music contains one melody with no harmonic accompaniment. Musical works that have only one melodic instrument performing are often monophonic. Monophonic texture can also occur when many instruments are playing the same melody at the same time. Gregorian chant is an example of a monophonic genre. Music of the shakuhachi and Native American flutes is mostly monophonic. When people gather to sing Happy Birthday they strive for a monophonic texture. When a piece of music contains one melody with an accompanying drone (Raga Jog) the drone is often not considered and therefore the texture may be called monophonic.

    Homophony- Homophonic music contains one melody and harmonic accompaniment. This is the most commonly heard texture in Western Art music and contemporary popular music. The harmony is often played on an instrument that can perform more than one note at the same time. Instruments like the piano and the guitar are used in modern pop music to play the chords while singers often perform the melody. Despite the complex timbres, melodies, and rhythms of Western Art music the most common texture is homophony. When choirs and vocal groups sing four-part harmony (chords) in which all of the voices move in unison rhythm the resulting texture is homophony. The upper voice in these cases is the melody while the other voices are the harmonic accompaniment. This music is sometimes referred to as being homorhythmic.

    Polyphony- Polyphonic music contains two or more differing melodies happening simultaneously. There is much polyphonic music from both the Renaissance and Baroque style periods in Western Art music. In Classical, Romantic, and Twentieth Century styles smaller polyphonic sections of large works offer contrast to the largely homophonic textures. Polyphony is complex or “thick” sounding. It is not often heard in popular music. Polyphonic music may or may not have harmonic accompaniment.

    The fourth texture is one that also contains one melody but has variations on the melody. Heterophony- Heterophonic music contains two or more voices playing variations of one melody at the same time. This is a common texture of some folk traditions in which melodies are previously known to the listeners (Amazing Grace) and each performer wants to add their own style to the performance.

    Analyzing texture:

    1. Does the music have one or more melodies?
    2. Does the music have harmony?
    3. Did you disregard drones and drums?
    4. What is the texture? Does it change within the piece?