What is polyphonic texture in music? 🇧🇷 hello music theory (2023)

polyphonytexture, also calledPolyphony, is the least popular of the three main formal textures. The other two types are dominated by monophonic and homophonic texture. Polyphony is most commonly associated with Baroque and Renaissance music and the music of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

In this post, we'll fully explore polyphonic texture, but before we do, we first need to remember what texture is in music.


What is texture?

textura musicalThis is how we describe the overall quality or sound of a piece of music.

It is often characterized by the number of layers of melody and harmony that can be heard at once.

Some things that can change the musical texture include the tempo, the type and number of instruments played, the genre, the style, and the structure of the harmonies, among others.

Let's delve into the less common and more complex type, the polyphonic texture.

Polyphonic Texture Definition

Polyphonic texture is when several independent melodies are played or sung simultaneously.

The term polyphonic comes from the Greek wordspol, which means "many" or "many", andphonetically, which means "sound" or "voice".

Since the other two main types of textures,homophonemimonophonicTexture, which deals with a single melody line at a time, polyphony is considered more complex and dense.

This is often the case, as we will see, since polyphonic texture is usually present only when a monophonic or homophonic textured piece of music adds a second, unrelated melody. However, some children's songs are polyphonic and very simple and easy to sing or play.

There are many different styles of music that are considered polyphonic. In this article we will seepistols,flee,Dixielandiajazz, zheterophoneTexture, a subspecies of polyphony.


in music oneKanonis when we play or sing a tune and after a period of time we play the same tune (or an imitation of it) one or more times.

The simplest form of a canon is ahour, which is a canon in which each tune is musically identical. Many children's songs can be sung in a circle, such as "Row, row, row in your boat" or "Frere Jacques."

In the circular version of these songs, only one person sings at the beginning, and each person joins in after a set amount of time.

This clip from "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is a perfect example of a five-person round, with each person beginning four bars after the person in front of them:

However, canons can also have imitative (following) melodies that are not musically identical to the original (main) melody.

For example, this piece by Konrad Kunz, "Canon No. 114," has the left and right hands of the piano playing in canon, but each hand's melody begins on a different note:

Perhaps the most famous music canon is Pachelbel's Canon in D, a very popular piece you've probably heard at weddings.

While the cello and harpsichord do not have canonical form, the three parts of the violin do. The melody begins with Violin I, Violin II begins the melody two bars later, and Violin enters the melody two bars later.

Try to keep up with all three tunes at the same time, it's hard when they all sound too fast!


Aleakit is an example of polyphonic structure because, like a canon, it introduces a melodic theme and imitates it throughout the piece.

A fugue differs from a canon in two ways.

The first is that the repetitions of the main melody in a fugue do not have to stay the same, each imitation can change the notes or rhythms of the previous one, and they do not have to copy the melody anywhere.

The other difference is that a fugue is usually much more structured: it has different sections and lasts longer than a canon. Fugues became popular in the early 18th century and are considered one of the defining musical styles of Baroque music.

Johann Sebastian Bach is the most famous composer of fugue music. An example he wrote is "Fugue No. 17 in A flat major":

In this piece, the right hand begins with a melody that is one bar long, usually going from the lowest to the highest notes, and contains two sixteenth notes (eighth notes) followed by four eighth notes (eighth notes).

This happens twice with the right hand, then three times with the left hand, and then alternates between right and left hand for a few bars. This theme is repeated throughout the piece and the harmonies are structured around it.


Dixielandia Jazzis a style of jazz that originated in New Orleans in the 1910s and 1920s.warmjazz otraditionalJazz.

A typical Dixieland band lineup would consist of trumpet, clarinet, and trombone as the main horn section along with a rhythm section of bass, piano, guitar/banjo, and drums or sometimes a washboard.

What makes Dixieland Jazz an example of polyphony is the fact that the trumpet, clarinet, and trombone tend to play different, unrelated melodies over the course of a song.

The trumpet used to play the main melody, while the clarinet played a much faster and more complex melody, meandering up and down.

The trombone played a slower, simpler tune in the background of the other two. Often all three of these melodiesimprovised, which means they are freshly made.

A famous example of Dixieland jazz is the 1923 song "Dippermouth Blues" by King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.

heterophonic texture

in the song,heterophoneTexture is a subtype of polyphony and occurs when there are two or more variations on a single melody line.

Although it sounds like a round or a canon, it differs in that both versions of the melody are sung or played at the same time.

Imagine two people singing the same melody together, but one adding additional grace notes and variations, which would fall under the heterophonic texture.

This type of texture is most commonly found in non-Western music, such as B. Traditional Turkish, Arabic, Japanese, or Thai music.

In all of these cultures, it is traditional for several singers or instrumentalists to play the same tune, but each musician adds their own personal touch.

It is rarely found in Western music, particularly classical music, but here is an example in Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor."

In the section beginning in bar 211, bars 212-214, the piano and violins play the same melody, but the piano melody has added many sixteenth note embellishments, and the violins play single quarter notes (quarter notes).

abstract of polyphony

polyphonyTexture is the only one of the three main texture types in which more than one tune is played at the same time.

As the name suggests, there are various musical ideas that draw attention in different directions. For this reason, polyphony can often sound overloaded or difficult to understand.

Music that is monophonic or homophonic can become polyphonic if a second melody is added to it, e.g. B. when a singer improvises at the end of a song while the backup singers sing the main melody.

There are many different styles of music that have a polyphonic texture. Some of them areKanonohour, the baroque style ofleakMusic,Dixielandia Jazzand not westernheterophony.

We hope this article has helped you learn more about polyphonic textures!


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