Why am I learning this?
Texture is one of the most elementary aspects of music. Differences between textures are as fundamental as the differences between points, lines, and planes in geometry.

Texture is the pattern of sounds thought of in spatial terms. Textures are made up of different textural elements, which can combine into layers. The most common textural elements are melodic lines (actual voices, not abstract voice-leading lines) and accompanimental figures (such as block chords, broken chords, and arpeggiated chords). Other textural elements are points, planes, or blocks of sound.

History and etymology

Very roughly speaking, Western art music prior to 1650 was more polyphonic, Western art music 1650–1900 was more homophonic, and after 1900 polyphony became prominent again alongside homophony, and other textures arose as well.

The word texture originally refers to weaving. This word is apt for musical texture, which is typically made up of lines weaving together.

General aspects

Musicians describe textures as thick or dense versus thin or sparse, depending on the number of layers and the thickness of the layers themselves, e.g., a chord is thicker than a line. They also describe textures as heavy versus light, depending on register, instrumentation, dynamics, and articulation.

Specific aspects

Homophony is music with one main melodic line. The other elements may be melodic lines or accompanimental figures.

Polyphony is music with multiple melodic lines. (Strictly speaking, homophony is also polyphony.)

Monophony is music with just one melodic line.

Example: Joan Tower, Wild Purple (1998).

Planing is the use of chords instead of individual notes in the melody, which means that there is a melodic plane, so to speak.

Example: Claude Debussy, “La cathédrale engloutie,” No. 10 of Preludes, Book 1 (1910).

Pointillism is the use of notes as points rather than lines.

Example: Anton Webern, Variations for Piano, op. 27 (1936), II.

Sound mass is the use of an entire range of pitches as a block.

Example: György Ligeti, Atmosphères (1961).

Juxtaposition is the abrupt alternation of textures.

Example: Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring (1913), introduction to Part 2 (1913).

Further reading

  • Stephen Kostka, Materials and Techniques of Post-Tonal Music, Chapters 11–12
  • Miguel Roig-Francolí, Understanding Post-Tonal Music, Chapters 1 and 11

External links

The Wikipedia article on texture is neither comprehensive nor entirely reflective of conventional understanding.


Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Music Copyright © by Matthew Arndt. All Rights Reserved.

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