Perhaps you heard a song on the radio or at a friend’s party that really caught your attention and made you want to explore further. If this is the case, you may have concluded that the song uses what is known as “Texture” to give the listener a subtle sense of excitement or wonder.
In music, texture is exactly how the various rhythmic, tonal, and melodic elements are blended together in a song, thus influencing the quality of the sound from a particular piece. Different textures can include both the melody and the harmony, which occur simultaneously with one another. These basic components of music use what is called “Modes”, which combine the two together to create new and interesting music. By combining these two fundamental building blocks, music can take on many different forms.
One of the earliest pieces to illustrate this was Die Stimm und Szen, or The Little Stick. This ditty became very popular in Germany in the 1900’s and is still a staple in many schools and classrooms today. While the basic melody and harmony are the same between this piece and Schubert’s Geldenkrais Kreaten, the rhythmic texture adds a whole new dimension. The way in which the two are combined creates what is known as “Modes” and these modes often appear in Schubert songs.
Another common example of using textures in music is The Rainbow. This beautiful piece was written by Robert E. Brown and is often heard playing in various churches and on various radio stations throughout the United States. The Rainbow uses two different types of repeated harmonies, which occur at different times in each measure and are repeated throughout the piece as well. The repeated bass line in the verses repeats melodically while the refrain repeats lyrically, just like in The Little Stick.
A relatively simple example of what is texture in music can be heard inimentarilly guitarist Ray La Montagne’s rendition of The Rat. This song uses a thick texture that occurs in the rhythm, which is repeated in the rhythm after each phrase and appears at the end of each verse. This type of repeating texture may be recognizable to listeners as reverb, but it is actually very subtle. This makes this piece a favorite among lovers of fine acoustic music because the texture allows the melody to fade in and out as the musical lines shift and change.
Finally, the term “monophonic” can also be used to refer to a single note repeated over a single octave. This term is loosely applied to any piece wherein the melody is played over only one note, as opposed to polyphonic pieces that contain numerous notes played simultaneously. So a piece with a single melody will be called a monophonic piece while a polyphonic piece can be called a polyphonic piece if it contains more than one octave of melody. So next time you play a chord or try to figure out the difference between an orchestral ensemble piece and a solo melody piece, don’t be confused: the difference is texture!