The Sound of Music

Sounds are wonderful and my favorite is when I swing my pitching wedge and hear that crisp sound of my shot flying toward the green, well this happens in my dreams at least.  Consonance and dissonance are categorizations of simultaneous or successive sounds.  Consonance is associated with sweetness, pleasantness, and acceptability and dissonance is associated with harshness, unpleasantness, or unacceptability.  Consonance is a pleasant sound that can begin or end a piece of music, and Dissonance is an unpleasant sound that calls for consonance (or resolution).  A cacophony is a jarring mix of dissonant and discordant sounds, where dissonant is of or pertaining to dissonance (conflicting notes that are not overtones of the note or chord sounding), while discordant is harsh non-harmonious sounds that are not in accord.

Dissonance may make some listeners feel uneasy, but it can be used to create tension and a sense of motion in compositions.  You might compare musical dissonance to the conflict between characters in a story.  The tension builds and rises to a peak, and then is resolved by the story’s calm conclusion. Dissonance in music is often, but not always, followed by harmonic resolution in musical pieces. Discordant is more of a sense of being continually off-key, a place of the unexpected, a directly confrontational sound, where noise dissonance describes an unpleasant, harsh sound that lacks of harmony.  Dissonance is a sound created when two discordant notes are played in unison.

Music is subjective to the listener, but there are various guidelines for what most people consider to be good sounds.  These established guidelines are based on harmony.  An audio engineer works with the ratio of frequencies between the notes of an interval and the smaller number of the ratio, will equate to a more consonant sound, and the larger number of the beat ratio frequency will equal a more dissonant sound.  Musical dissonance occurs when a pitch or pitch combination is perceived to clash with (learnt) harmonic or tonal expectations, resulting in music that sounds discordant or in need of resolution.

The result of playing notes together, whether the sounds are consonant or dissonant, has to do with whether or not the tones produced are at regular or irregular intervals.  In the case of the chord with even changes in pitch, the use of every other tone sounds harmonious.  When the change in pitch is uneven and doesn’t follow a pattern, the interval is irregular and this will sound as if someone played a wrong note. However, dissonance is a tool used by composers to achieve a certain effect or mood in listeners, as it can be used to create and escalate excitement.

Dissonance in music is a matter of degree.  Different combinations of notes can sound more dissonant or more harmonious.  A cacophony or racket of deafening sounds may be heard when an untalented band is warming up their instruments before a concert.  A cacophony is often the result of an accident by a novice musician.

4 thoughts on “The Sound of Music

  1. Sometimes, especially in jazz and blues, dissonance is desirable. They use a lot of seventh chords, which by definition contain a tritone, generally regarded as the most dissonant interval, and will also use altered chords which introduce non-scale notes into the chord, which create tension as well. Understand, I know enough about theory and harmony to be dangerous, but not enough to know exactly what I’m talking about…

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    1. Thanks for admitting that, but I respect your opinion and you do talk a good game. From your comments and posts, I feel that you know more about music than anyone who I ever met.


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