What Is Polyphonic Music?
Music is the science of arranging sounds in musical time to create a melody through the various components of harmony, melody, rhythm, and timing. It is also one of the oldest universal cultural attributes of all human cultures. Music has been used since antiquity to convey messages across cultures, to identify events and to enhance our sense of self and other memories. Even if it was not consciously perceived, the wide-spread human perception of music is deeply rooted in the history of human civilization.
The first two elements of the definition are quite obvious, although many would not think so at first glance. Rhythm refers to the unity of pitch and timing of various musical sounds. Harmony refers to the relationship between two or more sounds within a melody. Timbre describes the quality of sound and often refers to how “live” a sound is. When two melodies or beats are meant to be played together, they are said to have “harmony.” On the other hand, when one melody should be played separately without a break, it is called “vibrato.”
The three components of musical harmony were developed in classical music during the rise of Classical music in the Western world. The use of polyphonic scales was common in this time and was a major breakthrough. Polyphonic scales were constructed by combining an entire series of notes into one, usually single tone. This increased the possibilities to be played by a single player and gave birth to “polyphonic playing.” This is how many of today’s popular music pieces are created, as well as some of the most recognizable songs in history.
Because the rise of the Classical forms of music, there was also the birth of many great composers who paved the way for the development of symphonic playing. Among these include such notable composers as Michelangelo and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In his Requiem for the Bach Children, Mozart wrote a musical overture that included not just one but four overtures, each one longer than the last. Other great composers who also developed the use of polyphonic playing in their own works include Johann Sebastian Bach, Anton Ilse Steinach, and J. S. Bach.
Because the development of polyphonic music depended on the consistent use of polyphonic scales, many instruments used in concert music were designed to be performed using this scale. For example, all of the guitars that you will hear at a classical concert will likely be fitted with a variety of different sounds made from strings made of various octaves. Because these sounds all have different octaves, they are said to create a variety of “chords,” or sets of tones that can be played at the same time. A guitar that uses just one or two octaves of strings can only be used to play one type of chord at a time, hence the term “classical guitar.” For example, if you play a C-major chord, it will produce a range of different notes, all of which are produced by using different notes from the C major scale.
Because the sounds of different polyphonic scales are combined into pleasing harmonic forms, many people refer to the resulting music as being “melodic.” To a musician, melodic music is not just pure musical noise; it is also dance. Many classical musicians who were among the greatest polyphonic players in the history of classical music are very accomplished dancers. They were able to blend their many instruments and their polyphonic playing into such a powerful sound that they created beautiful music that has delighted lovers of all styles for many years.