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In music, homophony (//; Greek: ὁμόφωνος, homóphōnos, from ὁμός, homós, "same" and φωνή, phōnē, "sound, tone") is a texture in which two or more parts move together in harmony, the relationship between them creating chords. This is distinct from polyphony, in which parts move with rhythmic independence, and monophony, in which all parts (if there are multiple parts) move in parallel rhythm and pitch. A homophonic texture is also homorhythmic (or uses a "very similar rhythm"). However, in melody-dominated homophony, one voice, often the highest, plays a distinct melody, and the accompanying voices work together to articulate an underlying harmony. 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.
Beginning of Tallis' "If ye love me," notated above.
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While homophony can be heard in nearly all European musical traditions, the first notated examples appeared during the Medieval period in dance music, such as the Estampie. However, because manuscript was expensive to produce, there is little record of Medieval homophony, most notated music being monophonic. There was similarly little record of homophony during the Renaissance period.
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. The choral arrangement of four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) has since become common in Western music. 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.
Homophony has appeared in several non-Western cultures, 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". While the concept of harmony in that time was not necessarily the same as the concept of homophony as understood by modern scholars, it is generally accepted that homophonic voice harmonies are commonplace in the African music of today, singers moving in parallel thirds or fourths. For instance, the Fang people of Gabon have used homophony in some of their music.
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. 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.
In melody-dominated homophony, accompanying voices provide chordal support for the lead voice, which assumes the melody. 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.