Cakes, Jumpers & Music: Ideas On Teaching Texture

'What is Texture?'

I'm sure you have asked that question many times, asking for some intelligent answers about lines of melody and the way they interact, or layers of sound, or something, anything, vaguely related to what you have taught them. 

Instead, you inevitably end up with half a dozen students looking at their jumpers in confusion and someone who starts talking about Mary Berry's sponge comments on Bake Off last night.  

'That cake had a great texture didn't it miss?  Paul Hollywood loved it!'

'We learnt about texture in textiles, miss.  My jumper has a smooth texture.  Miss Jones said so'.

And so then you have to weave in (ooh quick accidental texture joke there!!!) cakes and jumpers to your lesson about musical texture.  

Which isn't always a bad thing, if you can get off the subject of the failed chocolate gateau in the technical round of Bake Off. 

In my world, there are 8 main textures which students should understand for KS4 level.  Depending on your curriculum you may want to introduce these early on or delay if you are not too concerned with your students learning the 'technical terms' for what they are playing.  I believe that terms such as 'unison' and 'melody and accompaniment' can easily be introduced in KS1.

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So, do you teach them explicitly or just drip feed them during performance and composition tasks?  Educational settings are so different that I can't possibly give you a direct answer, but in my opinion, there are 3 ways of going about teaching texture.

1. Explicit lessons about texture.  'Today we will learn about polyphony.'

2. Drip feed and summarise over several lessons. 'Over the past 2 terms, we have played pieces with different textures.  Let's recap and find out what they were'.

3. Focus on genre.  'We are learning about baroque music.  Polyphony was an important technique popular in this period'.

Whichever technique you choose, there are various ways of teaching it.  Here are my top 7:


1. Food

So food always seems to be number one on my list!  But seriously, boil some spaghetti and have some fun.  (If you're not into the food thing or have student allergies to contend with just use string or rope).  If one strand of spaghetti is one melodic line, ask the students to get creative in demonstrating the different textures. The pictures on this blog post give you a clue as to what could be done. 

Cake decorating is also fun and engaging (although I normally prefer to save this for teaching structure).  If you don't mind paying out for some cheap buns or sponge fingers and toppings then this can really work, especially with a smaller class.  Use jellybeans or sprinkles to create a visual on a cake of a texture.   Added bonus - you get to eat your work. 

2. Actions

Create an 'arm dance', where specific actions denote specific textures.  eg one arm in the air = monophony, arms tangled together = polyphony.

Or use each student as a strand of melody and ask them to interact appropriately for the texture you call.  So heterophony may be two students, one stood still but one doing an action, whereas antiphony would be two groups of students stood opposite each other. 

3. Flash Card Competitions

Students love a bit of competition and this can be done as a whole class or small groups.  On your flashcards, you could have definitions, visuals, keywords, composers and even locations (eg St Mark's = antiphony) for students to answer.  You could also use these as a set of match up cards. 

4. Bingo

Again, similar to flashcards, give each student a bingo card with keywords and definitions on and call the opposing keyword or definition.  

5. Composition

Many students learn by doing, so I like to set a composition task.  These could be the short starter or plenary exercise such as 'compose a 4 bar polyphonic piece for keyboard' or full composition tasks that could be completed independently or as a joint venture.  My favourite 'texture composition' is called The River.  Students work in groups at KS3 or on their own at KS4 to compose a rondo about a river.  The 'A section' is a monophonic symbol of the river, whilst each section goes on in a different texture to represent the different stages of the river. 


A: Monophony - the river

B: Heterophony - the source (usually based around A)

A: Monophony

C: Antiphony - the river is joined by other tributaries

A: Monophony

D: Polyphony - the river runs through many towns

A: Monophony

E: Homophony - the grand finale at the river mouth

A: Monophony

6. Performance

I find that students are often exposed to monophony (learn this melody on the keyboard), unison (let's sing this all together), and melody and accompaniment (performing pop and rock songs).  So why not up the challenge and try some homophonic and polyphonic group performances?  

'Be Still My Soul' has been surprisingly popular in my classroom (Finlandia - Sibelius) as we can sing it to learn the melody and then students can use a variety of instruments to perform it homophonically.  It sounds surprisingly good as a xylophone quartet!

7. Listening

Of course, this should be much further up the list but as I am working in no particular order, it will stay here!  Without hearing examples these words are just abstract concepts with no real meaning, so ensure you play a variety of genres and from throughout history.  Personally, I like to be a little more creative than 'monophony = plainsong'.  For instance, try this clip of Katy Perry singing E.T. a capella.

My favourite ridiculous videos for teaching texture have to be the Homophonic Hippos, the Polyphonic Parrots and the Monophonic Mouse.  Many other more sensible options are available!

So however you go about it, good luck and have fun!  And always have spaghetti to hand. 


Have you downloaded the FREE KEYWORD SUPERFOLDER yet?  An amazing time-saving, workload-reducing pack of resources containing all keywords needed for GCSE/BTEC, with listening links and definitions.  Check it out HERE.


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