1.2 Monophonic, polyphonic and homophonic textures
In describing texture as musical lines or layers woven together vertically or horizontally, we might think about how these qualities are evident in three broad types of texture: monophonic (one sound), polyphonic (many sounds) and homophonic (the same sound). The distinction between monophonic and homophonic lies in the number of pitches sounded at any one time. In music where all instruments play the same pitch (even if this occurs at different registers), this could be described as monophonic. The ‘same sound’ of homophonic music lies in the harmony where the notes of the melody and accompaniment will emerge from chords. A polyphonic texture has ‘many sounds’; independent melodies that weave together while observing the rules of harmony. The three textures might be represented visually as follows:
Listen to the three audio extracts and decide whether these are monophonic, polyphonic or homophonic. Looking at the images in Figures 2, 3 and 4 may help while listening to the extracts to determine the texture.
Audio 4 was homophonic. Each type of singer (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) sang a different pitch which formed the harmony. This moved together with the melody and created block chords. Audio 5 was polyphonic. The singers sang different melodies which interwove to form a pleasing harmony. Audio 31 was an example of a monophonic texture with a single, unaccompanied singer.