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Homophony in Tallis' "If Ye Love Me", composed in 1549. The soprano sings the melody (the primary line) while the lower voices fill out the harmony (as supporting lines). The rhythmic unison in all the parts makes this passage an example of homorhythm. If ye love me.png
Homophony in Tallis' "If Ye Love Me", composed in 1549. The soprano sings the melody (the primary line) while the lower voices fill out the harmony (as supporting lines). The rhythmic unison in all the parts makes this passage an example of homorhythm.

In music, homophony ( /həˈmɒf(ə)n,h-/ ; [1] [2] , Greek: ὁμόφωνος, homóphōnos, from ὁμός, homós, "same" and φωνή, phōnē, "sound, tone") is a texture in which a primary part is supported by one or more additional strands that flesh out the harmony. [3] One melody predominates while the other parts play either single notes or an elaborate accompaniment. This differentiation of roles contrasts with equal-voice polyphony (in which similar lines move with rhythmic and melodic independence to form an even texture) and monophony (in which all parts move in unison or octaves). [4] Historically, homophony and its differentiated roles for parts emerged in tandem with tonality, which gave distinct harmonic functions to the soprano, bass and inner voices.


A homophonic texture may be homorhythmic, [5] which means that all parts have the same rhythm. [6] Chorale texture is another variant of homophony. The most common type of homophony is melody-dominated homophony, in which one voice, often the highest, plays a distinct melody, and the accompanying voices work together to articulate an underlying harmony. [7]

Initially, in Ancient Greece, homophony indicated music in which a single melody is performed by two or more voices in unison or octaves, i.e. monophony with multiple voices. Homophony as a term first appeared in English with Charles Burney in 1776, emphasizing the concord of harmonized melody. [8]


European and German music

Homophony first appeared as one of the predominant textures in Western classical music during the Baroque period in the early 17th century, when composers began to commonly compose with vertical harmony in mind, the homophonic basso continuo becoming a definitive feature of the style. [7] In Western music, homophony may have originated in dance music, in which a simple and direct rhythmic style was needed for the prescribed bodily movements of individual dances. Homophony and polyphony coexisted in the 1600s and 1700s. Polyphony was the common melody during the Renaissance period. During the Baroque period, monophony became the new modern style. The choral arrangement of four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) has since become common in Western classical music. [7] Homophony began by appearing in sacred music, replacing polyphony and monophony as the dominant form, but spread to secular music, for which it is one of the standard forms today.

Composers known for their homophonic work during the Baroque period include Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, and Johann Sebastian Bach.

In 20th-century classical music some of the "triad-oriented accompanimental figures such as the Alberti bass [a homophonic form of accompaniment] have largely disappeared from usage and, rather than the traditional interdependence of melodic and chordal pitches sharing the same tonal basis, a clear distinction may exist between the pitch materials of the melody and harmony, commonly avoiding duplication. However, some traditional devices, such as repeated chords, are still used. [9]

Jazz and other forms of modern popular music generally feature homophonic influences, following chord progressions over which musicians play a melody or improvise (see § Melody-dominated homophony ).

African and Asian music

Homophony has appeared in several non-Western cultures, [10] perhaps particularly in regions where communal vocal music has been cultivated. When explorer Vasco da Gama landed in West Africa in 1497, he referred to the music he heard there as being in "sweet harmony". [11] While the concept of harmony in that time was not necessarily the same as the concept of homophony as understood by modern scholars, [11] it is generally accepted that homophonic voice harmonies were commonplace in African music for centuries before contact with Europeans and is common in African music today. Singers normally harmonize voices in homophonic parallelism moving in parallel thirds or fourths. This type of harmonic model is also, implemented in instrumental music where voices are stacked in thirds or fourths. Homophonic Parallelism is not restricted to thirds and fourths, however all harmonic material adheres to the scalar system the particular tune or song is based on. The use of harmony in sixths is common in areas where a hexatonic scale system is used . [12] For instance, the Fang people of Gabon use homophony in their music. [13]

In eastern Indonesia (i.e. in the music of the Toraja in South Sulawesi, in Flores, in East Kalimantan and in North Sulawesi), two-part harmonies are common, usually in intervals of thirds, fourths or fifths. [14] Additionally, Chinese music is generally thought to be homophonic, since instruments typically provide accompaniment in parallel fourths and fifths and often double the voice in vocal music, heterophony also being common in China. [15]

Melody-dominated homophony

In melody-dominated homophony, accompanying voices provide chordal support for the lead voice, which assumes the melody. [7] Some popular music today might be considered melody-dominated homophony, voice typically taking on the lead role, while instruments like piano, guitar and bass guitar normally accompany the voice. In many cases, instruments also take on the lead role, and often the role switches between parts, voice taking the lead during a verse and instruments subsequently taking solos, during which the other instruments provide chordal support.

Monody is similar to melody-dominated homophony in that one voice becomes the melody, while another voice assumes the underlying harmony. Monody, however, is characterized by a single voice with instrumental accompaniment, whereas melody-dominated homophony refers to a broader category of homophonic music, which includes works for multiple voices, not just works for solo voice, as was the tradition with early 17th-century Italian monody. [16]


Melody dominated homophony in Chopin's Nocturne in E Op. 62 No. 2. The left hand (bass clef) provides chordal support for the melody played by the right hand (treble clef).

See also

Related Research Articles

Classical period (music) Genre of Western music (c. 1730–1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.

Polyphony Simultaneous lines of independent melody

Polyphony is a type of musical texture consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to a musical texture with just one voice, monophony, or a texture with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords, homophony.

Renaissance music Western musical period between the 15th and 17th centuries

Renaissance music is traditionally understood to cover European music of the 15th and 16th centuries, later than the Renaissance era as it is understood in other disciplines. Rather than starting from the early 14th-century ars nova, the Trecento music was treated by musicology as a coda to Medieval music and the new era dated from the rise of triadic harmony and the spread of the ' contenance angloise ' style from Britain to the Burgundian School. A convenient watershed for its end is the adoption of basso continuo at the beginning of the Baroque period.

Harmony Aspect of music

In music, harmony is the process by which the composition of individual sounds, or superpositions of sounds, is analysed by hearing. Usually, this means simultaneously occurring frequencies, pitches, or chords.

Monophony Musical texture

In music, monophony is the simplest of musical textures, consisting of a melody, typically sung by a single singer or played by a single instrument player without accompanying harmony or chords. Many folk songs and traditional songs are monophonic. A melody is also considered to be monophonic if a group of singers sings the same melody together at the unison or with the same melody notes duplicated at the octave. If an entire melody is played by two or more instruments or sung by a choir with a fixed interval, such as a perfect fifth, it is also said to be monophony. The musical texture of a song or musical piece is determined by assessing whether varying components are used, such as an accompaniment part or polyphonic melody lines.

Madrigal Secular vocal music composition of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras

A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition of the Renaissance and early Baroque (1600–1750) eras. The polyphonic madrigal is unaccompanied, and the number of voices varies from two to eight, but usually features three to six voices, whilst the metre of the madrigal varies between two or three tercets, followed by one or two couplets. Unlike the verse-repeating strophic forms sung to the same music, most madrigals are through-composed, featuring different music for each stanza of lyrics, whereby the composer expresses the emotions contained in each line and in single words of the poem being sung.


In music, heterophony is a type of texture characterized by the simultaneous variation of a single melodic line. Such a texture can be regarded as a kind of complex monophony in which there is only one basic melody, but realized at the same time in multiple voices, each of which plays the melody differently, either in a different rhythm or tempo, or with various embellishments and elaborations. The term was initially introduced into systematic musicology to denote a subcategory of polyphonic music, though is now regarded as a textural category in its own right.

In music, texture is how the tempo, melodic, and harmonic materials are combined in a musical composition, determining the overall quality of the sound in a piece. The texture is often described in regard to the density, or thickness, and range, or width, between lowest and highest pitches, in relative terms as well as more specifically distinguished according to the number of voices, or parts, and the relationship between these voices. For example, a thick texture contains many 'layers' of instruments. One of these layers could be a string section or another brass. The thickness also is changed by the amount and the richness of the instruments playing the piece. The thickness varies from light to thick. A piece's texture may be changed by the number and character of parts playing at once, the timbre of the instruments or voices playing these parts and the harmony, tempo, and rhythms used.. The types categorized by number and relationship of parts are analyzed and determined through the labeling of primary textural elements: primary melody (PM), secondary melody (SM), parallel supporting melody (PSM), static support (SS), harmonic support (HS), rhythmic support (RS), and harmonic and rhythmic support (HRS).


The frottola was the predominant type of Italian popular secular song of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. It was the most important and widespread predecessor to the madrigal. The peak of activity in composition of frottole was the period from 1470 to 1530, after which time the form was replaced by the madrigal.

Lute song

The term lute song is given to a music style from the late 16th century to early 17th century, late Renaissance to early Baroque, that was predominantly in England and France. Lute songs were generally in strophic form or verse repeating with a homophonic texture. The composition was written for a solo voice with an accompaniment, usually the lute. It was not uncommon for other forms of accompaniments such as bass viol or other string instruments, and could also be written for more voices. The composition could be performed either solo or with a small group of instruments.

Consecutive fifths

In music, consecutive fifths, or parallel fifths, are progressions in which the interval of a perfect fifth is followed by a different perfect fifth between the same two musical parts : for example, from C to D in one part along with G to A in a higher part. Octave displacement is irrelevant to this aspect of musical grammar; for example, parallel twelfths are equivalent to parallel fifths.


The lirone is the bass member of the lira family of instruments that was popular in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It is a bowed string instrument with between 9 and 16 gut strings and a fretted neck. When played, it is held between the legs in the manner of a cello or viol.

Lyra viol

The lyra viol is a small bass viol, used primarily in England in the seventeenth century.

Girolamo Montesardo was an Italian singer and composer.

Francesco Corteccia

Francesco Corteccia was an Italian composer, organist, and teacher of the Renaissance. Not only was he one of the best known of the early composers of madrigals, and an important native Italian composer during a period of domination by composers from the Low Countries, but he was the most prominent musician in Florence for several decades during the reign of Cosimo I de' Medici.

In the years centering on 1600 in Europe, several distinct shifts emerged in ways of thinking about the purposes, writing and performance of music. Partly these changes were revolutionary, deliberately instigated by a group of intellectuals in Florence known as the Florentine Camerata, and partly they were evolutionary, in that precursors of the new Baroque style can be found far back in the Renaissance, and the changes merely built on extant forms and practices. The transitions emanated from the cultural centers of Northern Italy, then spread to Rome, France, Germany, and Spain, and lastly reached England . In terms of instrumental music, shifts in four discrete areas can be observed: idiomatic writing, texture, instrument use, and orchestration.

Jan Nasco was a Franco-Flemish composer and writer on music, mainly active in Italy. He was the first director of the Veronese Accademia Filarmonica, and his writings, particularly a group of letters he wrote to the Academy in the 1550s, are important sources of information on performance practice regarding use of instruments in madrigals as well as motets.

Baroque music Style of Western classical music

Baroque music is a period or style of Western classical music from approximately 1600 to 1750 originated in Western Europe. This era followed the Renaissance music era, and was followed in turn by the Classical era, with the galant style marking the transition between Baroque and Classical eras. The Baroque period is divided into three major phases: early, middle, and late. Overlapping in time, they are conventionally dated from 1580 to 1650, from 1630 to 1700, and from 1680 to 1750. Baroque music forms a major portion of the "classical music" canon, and is now widely studied, performed, and listened to. The term "baroque" comes from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning "misshapen pearl". The works of Georg Friedrich Händel and Johann Sebastian Bach are considered the pinnacle of the Baroque period. Key composers of the Baroque era include, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, Henry Purcell, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Arcangelo Corelli, François Couperin, Heinrich Schütz, Dieterich Buxtehude, and others.

Traditional sub-Saharan African harmony is a music theory of harmony in Sub-Saharan Africa music based on the principles of homophonic parallelism, homophonic polyphony, counter melody and ostinato-variation. Polyphony is common in African music and heterophony is a common technique as well. Although these principles of traditional African music are of Pan-African validity, the degree to which they are used in one area over another varies. Specific techniques that used to generate harmony in Africa are the "span process", "pedal notes", "Rhythmic harmony", "harmony by imitation", and "scalar clusters".


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