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Mrs Briggs

AoS 3: Texture and Melody

AoS 3: Texture and melody


Texture describes how much is going on in the music at any one time. It is about the different ways instruments and voices are combined in a piece of music.

You will need to recognise the following textures:

Tick below when you are happy with your understanding of these key words:

Harmonic/homophonic, polyphonic/contrapuntal

Broken chords

Imitative, canonic, layered

Unison, octaves, single melody line, melody with accompaniment, antiphonal


These two words mean the same thing - a texture which is essentially chordal. It may also be used to describe a melody with accompaniment. Since the melody line is most important it is usually at the top of the texture.

Broken Chords:

A broken chord is when you play the notes of the chord separately one after another. Broken chord patterns provide a more gentle, flowing accompaniment to a melody than when the chord notes are played together.


These two words also mean the same thing. A polyphonic/contrapuntal texture consists of weaving together two or more equally important melodic lines which fit together harmonically. A polyphonic/contrapuntal texture typically sounds busy.

Imitative, canonic:

To imitate means to copy and this is exactly what happens in the music. One vocal or instrumental part starts off playing a melody, which is immediately copied, or imitated by another voice or instrumental part, though not necessarily at the same pitch. Usually it is only the first few notes of the melody which are imitated and several voices or instrumental parts may take turns to imitate the opening of the original melody.

A canon is a particular type of imitation. It is like a round, where the imitating voice or instrumental part repeats the entire melody, not just the opening. Just as in a round, several voices or instrumental parts might be involved in the canon.

Layered Texture:

This means that the music is made up of different layers of sound which are all important in adding to the rich texture of the music. These could be different rhythmic as well as melodic musical lines. Layered texture is a feature of African music as well as gamelan and modern music.

Unison, octaves, single line melody:

Unison is all the instruments or voices playing or singing notes at the same pitch. If the instruments or parts play or sing notes an octave apart, this is called octaves. To be in unison, the notes must be at the same pitch.

A single line melody is an example of a monophonic texture. As the name suggests, this is a single melody line without any harmonies, although it may be played by more than one instrument or voice.


This is a special kind of imitation where a musical phrase is passed between different groups of voices or instruments. In some antiphonal music the instruments or voices are placed in different parts of the building, or on different sides of a concert platform. This produces a kind of stereo or quadraphonic effect as a musical phrase is passed from one group to another.

AoS 3: Texture and melody


A melody is a rhythmically organised pattern of single note arranged in succession, one after the other. In a melody the notes are arranged horizontally, whereas in harmony they are arranged vertically.

You will need to learn the following key words:

Tick below when you are happy with your understanding of these key words:

Intervals within the octave

Conjunct, disjunct, triadic, scalic, arpeggio

Passing notes, acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas

Blue notes

Diatonic, chromatic, pentatonic, whole tone, modal

Augmentation, diminution, sequence, inversion

Slide/glissando/portamento, ornamentation

Ostinato, Riff

Phrasing, articulation

Pitch bend


Intervals within the octave

We know already that names are given to the different notes, called the degrees of a scale (harmony notes).

The distance in pitch between two different notes in a scale is called an interval. The two notes may be sounded together, or one after the other. An interval is identified by counting the distance in pitch between the two notes. This includes counting the bottom and top notes, and the number of lines and spaces between them. For example, the distance between the notes C and G is a 5th, as the interval covers the notes C,D,E,F and G.

Intervals within the Octave:

Conjunct, disjunct, triadic, scalic, arpeggio:

These are all different kinds of melodic note patterns. Conjunct means that the notes in the melody move mainly by step: in other words they are mostly next to each other in pitch. A disjunct melody moves mainly by leaps – wide intervals between the notes. A triadic melody begins by using notes that belong to a triad – three note chord, which is usually the tonic chord which helps us work out what key we are in. A scalic melody is made up of notes that follow the order of a particular scale.

An arpeggio is a type of broken chord, where the notes are played one after the other either going up (ascending) or going down (descending. Arpeggios can be both a melodic and harmonic feature.

Passing notes, acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas:

A passing note is a note in a melody that connects two notes that are part of the harmony. For example, in a melody you might have the C followed by the E: these two notes re recognisable as part of the chord of C major. To smooth out the melodic line between these notes, the note D might be added in between them. This note does not belong to the chord of C major but is a passing note, since it ‘passes’ between the two ‘harmony’ notes. Passing notes usually, but not always, occur on weak beats. For example:

The acciaccatura and appoggiatura are ornaments and they are used to decorate or embellish a note in some way. They are often written as very small notes in the printed music- see below. It is played a tone or a semitone above or below the melody note is it decorating. It is sometimes called a ‘crushed’ note because it is played very quickly before the melody note. An appoggiatura looks similar to an acciaccatura but without the line through it.

Blue notes:

These are special notes which are used in blues music. In the melody some notes are played a semitone lower. For example: is a melody is based on the notes of the chord of C major –C,E,G- the melody might change the note E to Eb. The scale of C major, with blue notes is like this:

When blue notes appear in the melody, blues performers often ‘slide’ from one to the other.

Diatonic, chromatic, pentatonic, whole tone, modal:

These terms can be all used to describe a melody. Remember that we have looked already at Diatonic, chromatic and modal in the harmony section.

Pentatonic scales have five different pitches within the octave. Their characteristic sound is often heard in Celtic folk melodies, and those of Africa and East Asia.

A whole tone scale consists of exactly what it describes – whole tones. Unlike a major or minor scale, there are no semitones. Here is a whole tone scale starting on C:

Augmentation, diminution, sequence, inversion:

Augmentation and diminution were covered in the notes on rhythm and metre.

A sequence is where a melodic phrase is immediately repeated at a different pitch, often by step. If the sequence gets higher in pitch it is called an ascending sequence. Alternatively the pitch may get progressively lower, in which case it is a ‘descending sequence’.

An inversion is where a tune is turned ‘upside down’ so that the intervals between the notes which rise in the original version now fall, and vice versa.


These terms describe the same melodic device: sliding from on note to another. On some instruments, for instance piano or harp, it means playing all the notes in between, by sliding the fingers quickly over the keys or strings.


Ornamentation is the decoration or embellishment of the melodic line. As well as the acciaccatura and appoggiatura discussed earlier, some of the most common ornaments are the trill, the turn, and the mordent.

Ostinato, riff:

An ostinato is a short rhythmic or melodic phrase or pattern that is repeated. Riff means the same thing but is usually used when describing pop music.

Phrasing, Articulation:

These concern the way music is performed:

Legato: the notes of the melody should be played smoothly.

Staccato: the notes should be played short and detached. This is indicated by dots above or below the note heads.

Slur: a curved line over a passage of music indicates that it should be played in a smooth, unbroken legato style.

Sfozando: a sudden strong accent in the music. It is shown by the sign sfz.

Pitch bend:

This is when a note is raised or lowered in pitch slightly. This is often used in guitar technique, although it can be produced on any string instrument, vocally or on a synthesiser, for example.


This is where a musician invents new musical ideas on the spot during a performance. It is a feature of Jazz and Indian classical music. When improvising, performers often develop features of the music such as chord patterns, rhythms and melodic phrases. Improvisations display the performer’s virtuoso skills by being fast or technically difficult.

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