GCSE Revision Pt. 6 – Texture

I have covered various aspects of the course in this revision series and now I want to focus on texture.

Texture is an often misunderstood entity in music and all too often I hear students sticking with the concept of Thick & Thin. Whilst that is okay on a very basic level it certainly isn’t enough for GCSE. At GCSE they need to be able to describe texture in much more detail. What I teach my students is to think about the different layers that exist in a piece of music. I actually use the James Bond Theme tune to help introduce them to this ideas of layers. There are several key layers to this classic film theme and it is a great way of getting them to actually describe what is going on in each layer.

You’ve got the strings playing a long, broad, repeating motif under the guitar riff. You have trombone/brass stabs but then the brass melody that comes in. Then you have the drums underneath – you know what I mean. So firstly get them to listen to this and then describe the various layers – I think there is even some vibraphone in there as well. Obviously whilst doing this you can get them thinking about time signature, tonality, melodic shape and all that. But get them to focus on describing what each and every layer in the piece is doing. I quite like the arrangement I have posted above because it has some lovely drum fills, and so you can then look at how the texture changes. Of course you can pick pretty much any piece of music and discuss layers, but i just like this James Bond theme as I think the layers are clear and obvious.

One thing I find is that students all too often confuse what Polyphonic means. How many students would describe James Bond as Polyphonic if given a chance – and I mean it just isn’t. So I always make sure I play them something that really is polyphonic as soon as they make that mistake. I want them to see that true polyphony is where independent melodic lines weave together. It is very different from a Homophonic piece where there is a clear line of melody that everyone follows.

Something I find students often forget in the exam is to think about Imitative texture & Unison. These textures have come up in past papers and I think they are really good to include in your revision programme. Also of course you can stress that Unison is similar to Monophonic, but Octaves are just subtly different. Two other often forgotten textures are Harmonic & Chordal – both very useful ways of describing texture. I just aim to get my students to move well beyond think, thin & homophonic and really start to add more to the description.

Textures as a topic is something that students really need to explore, and the more they can listen the better. It would appear that quite often Melody Dominated Homophony is used, particularly on some of the past AQA papers where it seems to be the “go-to” texture.

The thing is, if the question says Describe the Texture then I think we need to ensure students do just that. So the answer wouldn’t be just Homophonic as that isn’t a description surely? So I always get students to write – Melody on…..and accompaniment on…. I get them to describe what they are hearing.

What I want for my students is for them to have their own virtual multiple choice list for the exam. When they see the word texture I want the list of possible textures to pop up in their mind and then they can choose from there. Of course they need to know what they all mean and that is where lots of listening comes in. But this mental multiplayer choice list is a rally valuable tool for them to use and I really try and make sure that they create a mental list for each area of study.

So I would make sure that you do a lesson on texture and have lots of listening. Make sure students know all the options and make sure that they have listened to loads of different examples. Be careful with the polyphonic as lots of websites seem to make mistakes on this and also make sure that they visually see texture on actual scores.

 

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