Polyphonic Texture: Definition, Music & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Postlude: Definition, Music & Songs

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Polyphonic Texture
  • 1:50 A Brief History
  • 2:53 Examples of Polyphony
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
Polyphony took hold in the 13th century and became the primary way of writing music for the better part of 500 years. This lesson will look at this important musical texture, providing some history and some examples along the way.

Polyphonic Texture

We're going to focus on music that developed through the European classical tradition in this lesson, especially as it relates to polyphony. Polyphony is the simultaneous performance of multiple melodies. It's a bit like two people giving speeches next to each other, but the speeches are independent of each other. Eventually, rules developed to control what was probably incredibly confusing. Imagine having four speakers giving four independent speeches at the same time. These rules became known as counterpoint, or the practice of controlling the relationship between the different melodies.

Polyphony is one of the musical textures. You may hear music as dense, thick, sparse, ambient, or any other of a number of different ways. This is musical texture. Polyphony is typically described as thick or densely textured, due to the independence of multiple melodic lines. Polyphony developed from earlier musical textures. In progressing order, you have monophonic to heterophonic to polyphony, though some theorists argue that biphonic music came before polyphony.

Polyphony became homophony around the turn of the Classical Era, with strict polyphony not being found again until the Modern Era with the new Austrian school of composers, or Schoenberg and his students. It can be argued that homophony is a simplification of polyphony, focusing on the harmonic aspects of polyphony, rather than the melodic independence. However, the essence of polyphony was lost with the transition to homophony. True polyphony only lasted until the Classical Era.

A Brief History

We now need to focus on sacred music for a minute, mostly because anything written in the early Medieval Era was basically controlled by the Church. Early sacred music was strictly monophonic. It had a single melody, sung by everyone. Around the year 900, we have some rules establishing that music can be sung in octaves, or notes that are eight steps apart. This isn't polyphony because, despite being different notes, they're the same melody, just at a different pitch.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account