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This melody for the traditional song "Pop Goes the Weasel" is monophonic as long as it is performed without chordal accompaniment.
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This melody for the traditional song "Pop Goes the Weasel" is monophonic as long as it is performed without chordal accompaniment. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

In music, monophony is the simplest of musical textures, consisting of a melody (or "tune"), typically sung by a single singer or played by a single instrument player (e.g., a flute 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 (e.g., a choir) sings the same melody together at the unison (exactly the same pitch) or with the same melody notes duplicated at the octave (such as when men and women sing together). 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 (or "monophonic"). 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 (two or more independent lines).


In the Early Middle Ages, the earliest Christian songs, called plainchant (a well-known example is Gregorian chant), were monophonic. In the 2010s, songwriters often write songs that intersperse sections using monophony, heterophony (two singers or instrumentalists doing varied versions of the same melody together), polyphony (two or more singers or instrumentalists playing independent melodic lines at the same time), homophony (a melody accompanied by chords) or monody (a single melodic line with instrumental accompaniment) elements throughout the melody to create different atmospheres and styles. Monophony may not have underlying rhythmic textures, and must consist of only a single melodic line.

According to Ardis Butterfield (1997), monophony "is the dominant mode of the European vernacular genres as well as of Latin song ... in polyphonic works, it remains a central compositional principle." [2]

Western singing


The earliest recorded Christian monophony was plainchant or plainsong (of which one well-known style was called Gregorian chant) a single unaccompanied vocal melody sung by monks. Sung by multiple voices in unison (i.e. the same pitch and rhythm), this music is still considered monophonic. Plainsong was the first and foremost musical style of Italy, Ireland, Spain, and France. In the early 9th century, the organum tradition developed by adding voices in parallel to plainchant melodies. The earliest organum merely augmented the texture of the melody by adding a second voice in parallel octaves or parallel fifths, which could still be considered monophonic; however, by the 11th century the organum had developed a style called "free organum" in which the voices were more independent, evolving into a polyphonic tradition.

Gregorian chant of the Kyrie (plainsong) Gregorian chant.gif
Gregorian chant of the Kyrie (plainsong)

Plainchant styles

Mozarabic chant, Byzantine Chant, Armenian chant, Beneventan chant, Ambrosian chant, Gregorian chant and others were various forms of plainsong which were all monophonic. Many of these monophonic chants were written down, and contain the earliest music notation to develop after the loss of the ancient Greek system. For example, Dodecachordon was published by the Swiss Renaissance composer Heinrich Glarean (also Glareanus) and included plainsong or Gregorian chant and monophony. The earliest manuscripts which contain plainsong were written in neumes, a primitive system which recorded only the outline of the melody, and it was not until the 11th century that Guido d'Arezzo invented a more modern musical notation system that the exact notes of the melodies were preserved.

Troubador song monophony

Most troubadour songs were monophonic. Troubadour songs were written from 1100–1350 and they were usually poems about chivalry or courtly love with the words set to a melody. Aristocratic troubadours and trouvères typically played in courtly performances for kings, queens, and countesses. Poets and composers in the 14th century produced many songs which can be seen as extensions of the Provençal troubador tradition, such as secular monophonic lais and virelais. Jehan de Lescurel (or Jehannot de l'Escurel), a poet and composer from northern French from the Trouvère style also wrote monophonic songs in the style of virelais, ballades, rondeaux and diz entés. Minnesänger were similar to the French style but in Middle High German. [3]

Geisslerlieder or Flagellant songs

A tradition of Lauda, or sacred songs in the style of Troubador songs, was popularized in the 13th and 14th centuries by Geisslerlieder, or Flagellant songs. These monophonic Laude spirituale songs were used in the 13th and 17th century by flagellants, as recorded in the medieval chronicle Chronicon Hugonis sacerdotis de Rutelinga (1349). [4]

Lutheran church chorale

Monophony was the first type of texture in the Lutheran Church. A well-known example is Martin Luther's hymn "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"), written as a monophonic tune sometime between 1527 and 1529. Many of Luther's hymns were later harmonized for multiple voices by other composers, and were also used in other polyphonic music such as the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Monophony with instrumental doubling

See Voicing (music)#Doubling

DeLone [5] more loosely defines monophony as "passages, movements, or sections in which notes sound alone, despite instrumental doubling" even if "such passages may involve several instruments or voices."

Music of India

Indian classical music is an ancient musical tradition where monophonic melodies called ragas are played over drones, sometimes accompanied by percussion and other accompaniment.

For more information see also Music history of India.

See also


  1. Kliewer, Vernon (1975). "Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN   0-13-049346-5.
  2. Ardis Butterfield (1997). "Monophonic song: questions of category", Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-816540-4.
  3. crusades article template Music of the Crusades Era
  4. Medieval secular song: Introduction Archived 2007-03-15 at the Wayback Machine
  5. DeLone, Richard (1975). "Timbre and Texture in Twentieth-Century Music", p. 99, Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN   0-13-049346-5.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Medieval music Western music written during the Middle Ages

Medieval music consists of songs, instrumental pieces, and liturgical music from about 500 A.D. to 1400. Medieval music was an era of Western music, including liturgical music used for the church, and secular music, non-religious music. Medieval music includes solely vocal music, such as Gregorian chant and choral music, solely instrumental music, and music that uses both voices and instruments. Gregorian chant was sung by monks during Catholic Mass. The Mass is a reenactment of Christ's Last Supper, intended to provide a spiritual connection between man and God. Part of this connection was established through music. This era begins with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century and ends sometime in the early fifteenth century. Establishing the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance music era is difficult, since the trends started at different times in different regions. The date range in this article is the one usually adopted by musicologists.

Polyphony music with multiple, independent melody lines performed simultaneously

In music, 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, which is called homophony.

Plainsong is a body of chants used in the liturgies of the Western Church. Though the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches did not split until long after the origin of plainsong, Byzantine chants are generally not classified as plainsong.

Music is found in every known culture, past and present, varying widely between times and places. Since all people of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have a form of music, it may be concluded that music is likely to have been present in the ancestral population prior to the dispersal of humans around the world. Consequently, the first music may have been invented in Africa and then evolved to become a fundamental constituent of human life.

Gregorian chant Form of song

Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song in Latin of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregorian chant developed mainly in western and central Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries, with later additions and redactions. Although popular legend credits Pope Gregory I with inventing Gregorian chant, scholars believe that it arose from a later Carolingian synthesis of Roman chant and Gallican chant.

PĂ©rotin 12th century French composer

Perotinus Magnus, was a composer from around the late 12th century, associated with the Notre Dame school of polyphony in Paris and the ars antiqua musical style. The title Magister Perotinus means that he was licensed to teach. The only information on his life with any degree of certainty comes from an anonymous English student at Notre Dame known as Anonymous IV. It is assumed that he was French and named Pérotin, a diminutive of Peter, but attempts to match him with persons in other documents remain speculative.

Organum is, in general, a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony, developed in the Middle Ages. Depending on the mode and form of the chant, a supporting bass line may be sung on the same text, the melody may be followed in parallel motion, or a combination of both of these techniques may be employed. As no real independent second voice exists, this is a form of heterophony. In its earliest stages, organum involved two musical voices: a Gregorian chant melody, and the same melody transposed by a consonant interval, usually a perfect fifth or fourth. In these cases the composition often began and ended on a unison, the added voice keeping to the initial tone until the first part has reached a fifth or fourth, from where both voices proceeded in parallel harmony, with the reverse process at the end. Organum was originally improvised; while one singer performed a notated melody, another singer—singing "by ear"—provided the unnotated second melody. Over time, composers began to write added parts that were not just simple transpositions, thus creating true polyphony.

In music, texture is how the tempo, melodic, and harmonic materials are combined in a composition, thus determining the overall quality of the sound in a piece. 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).

Neume system of medieval musical notation

A neume is the basic element of Western and Eastern systems of musical notation prior to the invention of five-line staff notation.

Homophony texture in music

In music, homophony is a texture in which a primary part is supported by one or more additional strands that flesh out the harmony and often provide rhythmic contrast. This differentiation of roles contrasts with equal-voice polyphony and monophony. 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.

Music of the Trecento

The Trecento was a period of vigorous activity in Italy in the arts, including painting, architecture, literature, and music. The music of the Trecento paralleled the achievements in the other arts in many ways, for example, in pioneering new forms of expression, especially in secular song in the vernacular language, Italian. In these regards, the music of the Trecento may seem more to be a Renaissance phenomenon; however, the predominant musical language was more closely related to that of the late Middle Ages, and musicologists generally classify the Trecento as the end of the medieval era. Trecento means "three hundred" in Italian but is usually used to refer to the 1300s. However, the greatest flowering of music in the Trecento happened late in the century, and the period is usually extended to include music up to around 1420.

Timeline for Music of Italy

Ambrosian chant is the liturgical plainchant repertory of the Ambrosian rite of the Roman Catholic Church, related to but distinct from Gregorian chant. It is primarily associated with the Archdiocese of Milan, and named after St. Ambrose much as Gregorian chant is named after Gregory the Great. It is the only surviving plainchant tradition besides the Gregorian to maintain the official sanction of the Roman Catholic Church.

Mozarabic chant is the liturgical plainchant repertory of the Visigothic/Mozarabic rite of the Catholic Church, related to the Gregorian chant. It is primarily associated with Hispania under Visigothic rule and with the Catholic Visigoths/Mozarabs living under Islamic rule, and was soon replaced by the chant of the Roman rite following the Christian Reconquest. Although its original medieval form is largely lost, a few chants have survived with readable musical notation, and the chanted rite was later revived in altered form and continues to be used in a few isolated locations in Spain, primarily in Toledo.

Beneventan chant liturgical plainchant repertory of the Roman Catholic Church

Beneventan chant is a liturgical plainchant repertory of the Roman Catholic Church, used primarily in the orbit of the southern Italian ecclesiastical centers of Benevento and Monte Cassino distinct from Gregorian chant and related to Ambrosian chant. It was officially supplanted by the Gregorian chant of the Roman rite in the 11th century, although a few Beneventan chants of local interest remained in use.

The modern state of Italy did not come into being until 1861, though the roots of music on the Italian Peninsula can be traced back to the music of Ancient Rome. However, the underpinnings of much modern Italian music come from the Middle Ages.

Paraphrase mass

A paraphrase mass is a musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass that uses as its basis an elaborated version of a cantus firmus, typically chosen from plainsong or some other sacred source. It was a common means of mass composition from the late 15th century until the end of the 16th century, during the Renaissance period in music history, and was most frequently used by composers in the parts of western Europe which remained under the direct control of the Roman Catholic Church. It is distinguished from the other types of mass composition, including cyclic mass, parody, canon, soggetto cavato, free composition, and mixtures of these techniques.

Schola Gregoriana Pragensis is an a cappella male voice choir from the Czech Republic, founded in 1987 by David Eben. Their core repertoire consists of Gregorian chant, Bohemian plainchant, and early polyphony, but they also perform modern works including some composed for them.