Four Types of Texture in Music
Updated: Jun 17, 2021
What images pop into your heard when you hear the word "texture"? Soft or hard? Dry or wet? Alive or inanimate? Slimy? Sticky? Fur, skin, scales? The image above shows four images that "texture" may conjure in your mind, the smooth sands of a vast desert, the rough brick wall in a decrepit city building, the rolling waves of the ocean, or the repeating patterns of plant life. When we look at the images above we can not physically feel the roughess, smoothness, dryness, or wetness of the surfaces, but the images visually simulate the way these surfaces might feel. How do these different textures translate into sound? How is texture used in music?
In a piece of music (or a musical performance) is constructed of many building blocks. These includes the melody or melodies, the harmonies, and the rhythms, as well as the form. When these different building blocks are brought together along with tempo and timbre, they create a musical texture.
Side note: Timbre is often called the "tone color" or "tone quality of music. It is what distinguishes the different instruments or voices that are playing or singing the same frequency or musical pitch. For example, you may have a guitar and a cello that are both playing a middle C, but due to their distinct timbres you will be able to tell them apart. Combining timbres is a very important aspect of creating musical textures that make one piece of music stand out from another.
There are four types of textures that appear in music, Monophony, Polyphony, Homophony, and Heterophony. These four textures appear in music from around the world. Learning how these textures have evolved, not only leads through the history of Western music but also shows us how music is a global innovation.
Monophony is a musical texture that is made of one-single melodic line. This ancient musical texture is found in the few examples that remain of Ancient Greek music, such as The Epitaph of Seikilos, which you may listen to and see the score in the video above.
Side note: The Epitaph of Seikilos is the oldest surviving complete, notated musical composition. It is dated from around 1st century CE. The song (musical notation and lyrics) was found engraved on a stele or tombstone from the Hellenistic town Tralles near present-day Aydın, Turkey, near Ephesus. It was composed by Seikilos in honor of his deceased wife. The timbre featured in this video is a double reed. Double reed instruments were popular in the ancient world and are the ancestors to out modern oboe and bassoon.