What is Texture in Music?
What is texture in music? Texture in music, and what it means in music, is quite different to what most people think texture means in everyday life. When you think of the texture of something, most often you will think of how a surface feels. Is it rough, is it smooth, or maybe cold, wet, dusty, or even metallic. But these words are not what we use to describe what is texture in music.
What does Texture in Music Mean?
So, what does texture in music mean? Texture in music refers to the number of musical lines and their density in a piece of music. In other words, texture in music is the relationship between the layers of sound or lines or voices. Some people will use the term “layers of sound” interchangeably with Texture.
Texture in music can be described using several terms, but the simplest ones are in describing the density of the music. The density, or the texture in music, in a piece of music with only a few instruments playing, could be described as light, thin, or even sparse. The density of a large group of instrument playing could be heavy, dense, think or even compact. The texture will depend on the number of instruments playing at any given time as well as how those instruments are being performed.
When you are discussing, performing, or studying, what is texture in music, there are a few main points to consider. These come under the broader headings of identify the instruments, density, what type of “phony” is being used, and lastly to use a diagram to demonstrate what is the texture and structure of the music.
What is Texture in Music Terms
Identify the Instruments
When you are trying to work out the texture of a piece of music, one of the first things you will need to do is list the instruments performing in the music. There are a few ways to do this. You could listen for each instrument, you could watch a live performance of the music, or you could look at the musical score.
Once you have listed the instruments, it will be easier to work out the overall texture if you work out the overall structure being used. Then, try and list the instruments performing in each section. With your sections written down, it should be a less complicated process to discuss the role, range and register of each instrument in the music. Knowing what each instrument is doing in each section, will also help you to determine other aspects of what is the texture in the music you are studying.
Role of an Instrument
There are four main roles that an instrument can perform in any section of a piece music. Please note that not every piece of music will have an instrument in each of these roles.
Melody – this is defined as a series of pitches that form a tune. The melody, or main melody, is the part that is most memorable and is often the part you sing along to in the music.
Beat – an instrument that performs the beat is often a drum or percussion instrument. The beat is defined as performing the underlying pulse of the music and helps the listener to hear the tempo of the music.
Melodic Accompaniment – the melodic accompaniment is performed by any pitched instrument that is not performing the melody but plays along and supports the melody. For example, if there was someone singing, and a guitar strumming the chords, then the guitar would be the melodic accompaniment and the melody would be sung by the vocalist.
Rhythmic Accompaniment – these are any instrument that performs with and supports the beat. These could be like a tambourine or shaker that plays a rhythmic pattern to accompany the drum kit that is playing the beat. The bass guitar, or double bass, are also often part of the rhythm section or rhythmic accompaniment. Even though the bass plays pitched notes, they often are in time and playing on the beat with the drum kit.
Describe the Density
The density of the music will depend on three main factors. The first being what instruments are performing? Secondly, what type of ensemble is performing the music? And lastly, how are the instruments performing in each section?
When discussing what is texture in music, it will help if you can work out first, what is the structure of the music. Knowing the different sections will help you later figure out what is happening with the texture in each section. Once you know the musical structure, you can then start to work out what is the texture. When you are listening, or looking at a musical score, determine what instruments are performing in the music, then what instruments perform in each section.
It also helps to know what type of ensemble is performing the music. If for example it is an orchestra, then the overall texture and density will be vastly different to the texture of a duet! Is it a choir, or rock band, or jazz big band performing? Knowing the answer to this question will help you to be able to describe the density of the music.
After you have all the information you need about the number of layers of sound in the music, it will be easier to describe the density of each section, or the texture of the overall music. There are several adjectives that you can use to describe the density in the music. These include – light, airy, open, thin, medium, thick, dense, heavy, closed, wide, spacious, tight, and close. Feel free to add to this list!
The density of the music will not only depend on how many instruments are performing in any given section, but on HOW those instruments are performing. The other Elements of Music, and how they are used in the music, will contribute to the differences in Texture. For example, you can have two quartets playing the same music, but each could have a hugely different density or thickness in sound.
If for example, there was a string quartet performing the same music as a rock quartet, the music could sound quite different simply because of the type of instruments performing as well as the way those instruments are played. In the two samples below of the song “Scar Tissue”, the texture is essentially the same in number of layers playing, but they sound different to each other. The original by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, has a heavier sounding density because of the bass guitar and drum kit, whereas the string quartet version by Vitamin String Quartet, has a much lighter sounding texture.
Type of “Phony”
Before you read any further, please note that “phony” is not a real word! It is just a term used to help group the different texture definitions used to describe the type of texture in a piece of music. Below is a list of the music terms and definitions for texture.
Monophonic – a single, unaccompanied melodic line
Homophonic – melody with accompaniment
Polyphonic – more than one melody performed at the same time
Heterophonic – two melodies that follow each other, but with more ornamentation in the main melody
To help you better understand and make sense of these terms and definitions for texture, consider the following texture descriptions of different versions the popular children’s song “Frere Jacques”.
If there was a group of people singing the song, together, in unison, with no other accompanying instruments, then the texture of the music would be monophonic.
Now, if the same song was sung, by several people, and there was someone strumming along with a guitar, playing a chordal accompaniment, then the texture would now be homophonic.
To make the same song polyphonic, the song could be sung by several voices, all starting the song at a different time, and singing the song in a “round” (see the definition below).
To change the texture into heterophonic, would mean, for example, several voices singing the song, a guitar strumming away, and a solo voice singing the melody with lots of fancy vocal flourishes and embellishments over the top of the simply sung melody by the group!
There are a few other important musical terms and definitions that you should know to help you deepen your understanding of what is texture in music.
Round or Canon – the same melody that starts at different points by another voice or instrument.
Fugue – a piece of polyphonic music where each line has a turn at the main theme, then returns to accompany the main theme. Below is Fugue in G Minor by Bach
Unison– the same melody performed by several voices or instruments at the same pitch
Doubling – the same melody either performed by two different instruments in unison OR two similar instruments an octave apart
Another way to discuss the different layers of sound, or how each musical line contributes to what is texture in the music, is to know in what direction each line is going. Below are some texture terms and definitions to help you.
Similar Motion – two melodic lines with the same melodic contour
Parallel Motion – two melodic lines with the same melodic contour
Contrary Motion – two melodic lines that move in opposite directions
Counterpoint – A type of polyphonic music where each line has its own melody and moves independently of other instruments OR voices. Below is a counterpoint “mash up” of Queen and Stevie Wonder. The two songs combined are Another One Bites the Dust and Superstition!
Texture in Music Diagram
There are many ways to write and notate music. One way to represent the texture of a piece of music, is to use a texture chart that uses a diagram that is like a graph in mathematics. To create a texture diagram, or texture chart, first work out the instruments performing, then determine the different sections of the music.
Once you have these two things worked out, create a graph with the instruments listed up one side of the graph, and the different sections of the music along the bottom. Lastly, after you have worked out what instruments are playing in each section, add this information to your texture chart. Look at the example below to help you create your own for the music you are studying.
Why is Texture in Music Important?
Texture is an especially important Element of Music. The way a piece of music uses each of the Elements of Music, contributes to the overall texture of the music.
If the music for example, has lots of voices singing close harmonies, then the texture could be described as “tight”. On the other hand, if the melody is sung by more than one voice, and is supported with a large ensemble, then the density and texture of the music could be quite thick and rich.
In contrast, if the music has lots of distorted timbres from a heavy distorted rhythm guitar, and another electric guitar performing with a crunchier timbre, and then these are accompanied by a drum beat that has the drummer using a double kick, and the bass player performing a very rhythmic bass riff, then the overall texture could be described as dense and heavy. This would be because there is a lot going on, all the time. The sound and timbre of each instrument contributing to the overall density and heaviness of the music.
Music Appreciation and Texture
The Elements of Music do not work in isolation. Each of the 8 Elements of Music, works with the others to make each piece of music unique and different. The texture of any piece of music, depends on the other elements of music, and how they are used.
The number of instruments performing, the structure of the music, the techniques used to make a sound on the instrument, the tonality and harmony used to accompany and support the melody, the dynamics used in each section, as well as the rhythms used in combination with each instrument, all combine to create to make what is the texture in the music.
Next time you are listening to a piece of music, try and listen for the number of instruments and what roles they are performing. Then ask yourself what is the overall density of the music? What is the type of texture being used? Does the density or type of texture change between sections? How does the way the other Elements of Music are used contribute to the texture of the music? Try to map the texture of the music and see if it helps you understand the changes in the texture in the music.
As a musician, think about ways that you can use the Element of Music – Texture, to improve your next performance. Can you alter the “feel” of the texture by playing in a different way? Can the texture be changed by adding or taking away an instrument? Maybe you can change the textural density by simply changing the dynamics from loud to soft, or vice versa?
Until next time
Julia from Jooya