Often when we’re talking about music we talk about different aspects of a piece individually, each of which has their own name. For example, we talk about dynamics in a piece, which refers to its volume, or how loud or soft it is at different points. One of these aspects of music is texture. In music, texture refers to how many separate parts there are, and how they interact. Before we think about texture on the piano, we can get an idea of what it means by thinking about a string quartet.
A string quartet is an ensemble of four players: two violinists, a viola player and a cellist. Each instruments plays a part, or line, in the music. These parts can interact with each other in different ways; they can play together, one instrument can have a tune, they can all play individual parts. This is the texture, and there are special terms to describe different textures.
Here is some music notation for a string quartet. In this extract there is only one part playing, the Violin I. This texture, where there is only one part, is called monophony. We could describe this extract as monophonic.
Have a look at the extract above. We now have all four parts playing, so what is this texture? Well, if you look carefully you’ll see that they’re all playing the same notes, just in different octaves. Because all the parts are playing the same thing, this is still considered monophonic. On piano, a monophonic texture would be one hand playing a tune on its own, or both hands playing the same notes in different octaves.
Now all the parts are playing the same rhythm still, but they’re not playing the same notes any more. If there are two or more parts playing the same rhythm, but different notes, the texture is homophonic. On piano, a series of chords would be a homophonic texture.
In the extract above, the Violin is still playing the tune, but the other parts have a different rhythm. What the Violin II, Viola, and Cello are playing isn’t interesting on its own, it’s just accompanying the tune. This texture is called melody and accompaniment, because that’s exactly what it is! On piano, melody and accompaniment would be the right hand playing a tune, and the left hand playing chords to accompany it.
Now the Violin II, Viola and Cello parts are much more independent. All four parts have different rhythms, different notes and are independent of each other. When the parts are separate like this the texture is called polyphony; we could describe this extract as polyphonic. Because there are four separate parts, or lines, we could also describe this extract as having four part texture. On piano, two hands playing independent lines can be described as two part texture or polyphony.
If you want to take music grades, you have to talk about texture in the aural section of ABRSM Grades 6 and above. Knowing about texture helps you to better understand the music you play and listen to in general, so it can certainly be a useful skill.