Definition of polyphony in US English:



  • 1The style of simultaneously combining a number of parts, each forming an individual melody and harmonizing with each other.

    • ‘This frees McFerrin to experiment with musical forms ranging from Medieval polyphony to African folk music.’
    • ‘Messiaen's almost Pentecostal polyphony not only makes us hear traditional melodies with new ears, it also makes us return to nature and listen to those sounds with a deeper spiritual understanding.’
    • ‘What surprised me was that a group from the opera chorus, joined by some students, wanted to give a whole concert of Renaissance polyphony, a style of music which the Russians never fostered.’
    • ‘The characteristic feature of Georgian folk music is polyphony.’
    • ‘The combination of melodies in polyphony, one of the great artistic achievements of medieval Europe, has produced the need for a more specialized explanation of melody in Western music.’
    euphony, consonance
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 A composition written, played, or sung in polyphony.
      • ‘This particularly brilliant and beautiful instrument illuminates the most complex orchestral and choral polyphonies of Bach and Handel.’
      • ‘My favourite part is the quintet; it is a heavenly polyphony.’
    2. 1.2 (on an electronic keyboard or synthesizer) the number of notes or voices that can be played simultaneously without loss.
      • ‘In effect, your keyboard can now be played with polyphony (simultaneous sounds) as high as the number of channels selected for Jazz Edit mode.’
      • ‘Using two iterations, I had nine polyphonic instruments up and running, with polyphony occasionally spilling over 100 notes simultaneously.’
      • ‘If you expect to exceed the polyphony limits of your keyboard with any regularity, check out what it does when you push the envelope.’


Early 19th century: from Greek poluphōnia, from polu- ‘many’ + phōnē ‘sound’.