Texture (music)

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Introduction to Sousa's "Washington Post March," m. 1-7About this sound Play  features octave doubling (Benward & Saker 2003, 133) and a homorhythmic texture.

In music, texture is the way the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are combined in a composition, thus determining the overall quality of the sound in a piece. Texture is often described in regard to the density, or thickness, and range, or width, between lowest and highest pitches, in relative terms as well as more specifically distinguished according to the number of voices, or parts, and the relationship between these voices (see Common types below. For example, a thick texture contains several different "layers" of instruments. One layer could be a string section, another a brass. This would be a reasonably light texture, with not too many layers. The thickness also is affected by the amount and the richness of the instruments playing the piece. The thickness varies from light to thick. A piece's texture may be affected by the number and character of parts playing at once, the timbre of the instruments or voices playing these parts and the harmony, tempo, and rhythms used.[1] The types categorized by number and relationship of parts are analyzed and determined through the labeling of primary textural elements: primary melody (PM), secondary melody (SM), parallel supporting melody (PSM), static support (SS), harmonic support (HS), rhythmic support (RS), and harmonic and rhythmic support (HRS) (Isaac & Russell 2003, p. 136).

Common types[edit]

In musical terms, particularly in the fields of music history and music analysis, some common terms for different types of texture are:

Type Description Visual Audio
Monophonic Monophonic texture includes a single melodic line with no accompaniment. (Benward & Saker 2003, 136). PSMs often double or parallel the PM they support (Benward & Saker 2003, p. 137).
"Pop Goes the Weasel" melody (Kliewer 1975, p.270-301).
Tune for Pop Goes the Weasel

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Biphonic Two distinct lines, the lower sustaining a drone (constant pitch) while the other line creates a more elaborate melody above it. Pedal tones or ostinati would be an example of a SS (Benward & Saker 2003, p. 137).
Pedal tone in Bach's Prelude no. 6 in D Minor, BWV 851, from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, m.1-2. All pedal tone notes are consonant except for the last three of the first measure.(Benward & Saker 2003, p.99)
Pedal tone in Bach's Prelude no. 6 in D Minor, BWV 851, from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, m.1-2.

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Polyphonic or Counterpoint Multiple melodic voices which are to a considerable extent independent from or in imitation with one another. Characteristic texture of the Renaissance music, also prevalent during the Baroque period (Benward & Saker 2003,1999,199,158,137, 136,129,110,90,59,35,11,9,0). Polyphonic textures may contain several PMs (Benward & Saker 2003, p. 137).
A bar from J.S. Bach's "Fugue No.17 in A flat", BWV 862, from Das Wohltemperirte Clavier (Part I), a famous example of contrapuntal polyphony. About this sound Play 
performed on a Flemish harpsichord by Martha Goldstein

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Homophonic The most common texture in Western music: melody and accompaniment. Multiple voices of which one, the melody, stands out prominently and the others form a background of harmonic accompaniment. If all the parts have much the same rhythm, the homophonic texture can also be described as homorhythmic. Characteristic texture of the Classical period and continued to predominate in Romantic music while in the 20th century, "popular music is nearly all homophonic," and, "much of jazz is also" though, "the simultaneous improvisations of some jazz musicians creates a true polyphony" (Benward & Saker 2003, 136). Homophonic textures usually contain only one PM (Benward & Saker 2003, p. 137). HS and RS are often combined, thus labeled HRS (Benward & Saker 2003, p. 137).
Homophony in Tallis' "If ye love me," composed in 1549. The voices move together using the same rhythm, and the relationship between them creates chords: the excerpt begins and ends with an F major triad.
Beginning of Tallis' "If ye love me," notated above.

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Homorhythmic Multiple voices with similar rhythmic material in all parts. Also known as "chordal". May be considered a condition of homophony or distinguished from it. see above
Heterophonic Two or more voices simultaneously performing variations of the same melody.

Additional types[edit]

Although in music instruction certain styles or repertoires of music are often identified with one of these descriptions this is basically added music. (for example, Gregorian chant is described as monophonic, Bach Chorales are described as homophonic and fugues as polyphonic), many composers use more than one type of texture in the same piece of music.

A simultaneity is more than one complete musical texture occurring at the same time, rather than in succession.

A more recent type of texture first used by György Ligeti is micropolyphony. Other textures include polythematic, polyrhythmic, onomatopoeic, compound, and mixed or composite textures (Corozine 2002, p. 34).

Composer Panayiotis Kokoras coined the term "holophonic musical texture" (Kokoras, 2004). According to the author, this is considered as the next stage in the evolution of musical texture "following the paradigms of monophony, polyphony and homophony." The word Holophony is derived from the Greek word holos, which means ‘whole, entire’. In other words, each independent sounds contributes to the synthesis of the holos (whole). Thus, "holophony" is the synthesis of simultaneous sound streams into a coherent whole with internal components and focal points.


  1. ^ Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.


  • Copland, Aaron. What to Listen for in Music. Published by Signet Classic, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY.
  • Corozine, Vince (2002). Arranging Music for the Real World: Classical and Commercial Aspects. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay. ISBN 0-7866-4961-5. OCLC 50470629. 
  • Hanning, Barbara Russano, Concise History of Western Music, based on Donald Jay Grout & Claudia V. Palisca's A History of Western Music, Fifth Edition. Published by W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Copyright 1998. ISBN 0-393-97168-6.
  • Kliewer, Vernon (1975). "Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music, p. 270-301. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.
  • Kokoras, Panayiotis (2005). Towards a Holophonic Musical Texture. In proceedings of the ICMC2005 – International Computer Music Conference. Barcelona / Spain.

Further reading[edit]

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