PERFORMING MEDIUM: During the Renaissance era, music was primarily performed by vocal groups (ensembles of one to eight parts). When instruments were used with voices, they often performed the same lines. Instrumental music included ensembles (consort music) and solos (such as keyboard music for the organ or harpsichord).
RHYTHM: As in the Medieval period, tempos were still determined by the musician as well as the sacred character of the piece or text. During the Renaissance era, rhythm began to increase in complexity, and by the end of this period, regular meters began to appear.
MELODY: Melodic range increased during this era, and melodic movement generally had a smooth consonant contour, with small conjunct intervals predominating. Musical phrases were balanced, and the use of embellishing tones was carefully regulated.
HARMONY: Composers sought to blend the sounds of voices and instruments during this era. The use of the Medieval period’s parallel fifths and octaves were avoided, and pleasing harmonies were sought such as triads and sixths. Although dissonances were freely used in Medieval music, Renaissance music prepared and resolved any dissonances with consonant harmonies. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, modern harmonic tendencies begin to appear.
TEXTURE: Polyphonic texture was predominately used, and music with many separate lines provided different sonorities and densities. Instead of using the Medieval period’s contrasting and independent lines, efforts were made to have voices blend by having musical lines present the same musical phrase, one after another.
FORM: Important genres during this period included the following large forms: motet, mass, madrigal, chanson (French for song), keyboard music, instrumental consort music and instrumental dance music.