Musical Texture

Introduction

Two basic types of musical texture may be identified: monophonic and polyphonic.

Monophony

Monophonic music features a lone melody line; thus, one person singing or whistling a tune constitutes monophonic texture. Heterophonic music, which may be described as "embellished monophony", features simultaneous variations of a melody line. A singer's voice, for instance, might be accompanied by an instrument that plays the same melody with slight modifications.

Most of the world's musical traditions are essentially monophonic, and are often described as "monophonic" even though they may include heterophony, as well as other methods of "thickening" monophonic texture (e.g. drone notes, repeated melodic fragments, percussion rhythms). Each of the art music traditions of Asia (e.g. Chinese, Indian, Islamic) as well as countless folk traditions throughout the world are essentially monophonic.1

The Two Basic Types of Musical Texture
monophony music comprised of a lone melody line, which may be unaccompanied or supported with "thickening" techniques
(e.g. heterophony, drone notes, repeated melodic fragments, percussion)
polyphony music comprised of multiple lines, which combine to form chords

Polyphony

Indeed, the only region to depart from monophony was Western Europe, which (starting in the later medieval period) developed polyphony: musical texture with independent lines, which blend to form chords. Polyphonic music can be further divided into two types: contrapuntal and homophonic.

The Two Basic Types of Polyphonic Texture
texture number of melodies
contrapuntal multiple
homophonic one

In contrapuntal music, two or more of the lines are sufficiently musically interesting to stand out as melodies. In homophonic music, only one line stands out as a melody, while the other lines act as a supportive framework. Nearly all modern popular music is homophonic, with a vocal line serving as melody and supportive lines provided by such instruments as keyboard, guitar, and bass. In Western art music, contrapuntal and homophonic textures both flourished during the Baroque era, while homophony prevailed in Classical and Romantic music.

1 - "Heterophony", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.