This article is about the musical term. For other uses, see Homophony (disambiguation).
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. This example can be heard in the listening sample below.

In music, homophony (/həˈmɒfəni, h-, -ˈmɒfni/;[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 and often provide rhythmic contrast.[3] 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

Tallis' "If ye love me"
Beginning of Tallis' "If ye love me," notated above.

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Homophony first appeared as one of the predominant textures in Western 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] The choral arrangement of four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) has since become common in Western 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.

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, much music of the Middle East is generally homophonic, although polyphony is also an important texture, while 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][16]

Melody-dominated homophony

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).

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.[17]

See also


  1. "Homophony". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  2. "Homophony". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  3. Taub, Monte. "Textural Constructions in Music". Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, vol. 1, no. 2 (Fall 1987).
  4. McKay, George Frederick (2005). Creative Orchestration. George Frederick McKay Music Publishing Co., Bainbridge Island, WA. (Originally published by Allyn & Bacon, Boston 1963, 2nd Ed. 1965).
  5. Griffiths, Paul (2005). The Penguin Companion to Classical Music. ISBN 0-14-051559-3.
  6. Randel, Don Michael (2002). The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians. ISBN 0-674-00978-9.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Hyer, Brian. "Homophony", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (accessed 24 September 2006), Online (Subscription required).
  8. Todd Michel McComb, ed. "What is monophony, polyphony, homophony, monody etc.?" Early Music FAQ (accessed 19 May 2009). The Online Etymology Dictionary ( gives 1768 as the date of earliest usage of the word, but without reference.
  9. DeLone, Richard (1975). "Timbre and Texture in Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of 20th Century Music, p.111 and 113. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.
  10. "Elements of Music - Part Six," Music in Our World (accessed October 11, 2006).Online
  11. 1 2 Annan Mensah, Atta. "The Polyphony of Gyil-gu, Kudzo and Awutu Sakumo," Journal of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 19. (1967), pp. 75-79.
  12. Kubrik, Gerhard. "Africa." Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (accessed October 11, 2006). Online (Subscription required)
  13. Sallée, Pierre. "Gabon". Grove Music Online, L. Macy, ed. (accessed October 11, 2006). (Subscription required)
  14. Yampolsky, Philip. "Indonesia." Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (accessed October 11, 2006). Online (Subscription required)
  15. Picken, Laurence. "Instrumental Polyphonic Folk Music in Asia Minor," Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 80th Sess. (1953 - 1954), pp. 73-86.
  16. Mok, Robert T. "Heterophony in Chinese Folk Music," Journal of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 18. (1966), pp. 14-23.
  17. Nigel Fortune and Tim Carter. "Monody", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (accessed 24 September 2006), Online (Subscription required)

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