Dave Clews on dis­so­nance and con­so­nance

Computer Music - - Contents -

Like most art forms, mu­sic is all about light and shade – to get the best re­sult, you have to have a blend of both. In this re­gard, two of the main things to con­sider when com­pos­ing a piece of mu­sic are con­so­nance and dis­so­nance. It’s all to do with the in­ter­vals be­tween note pitches. If we take two notes and count the num­ber of semi­tones be­tween their pitches, the re­sult is known as an in­ter­val, and each dif­fer­ent in­ter­val can be la­belled ei­ther con­so­nant or dis­so­nant.

The dic­tionary def­i­ni­tion of con­so­nance is ‘har­mony and agree­ment among com­po­nents’, so con­so­nant in­ter­vals are usu­ally pleas­ant to lis­ten to, fos­ter­ing a sense of agree­able well­be­ing and sat­is­fac­tion. In short, they just sound nice. A dis­so­nant in­ter­val, how­ever, just gen­er­ally makes you wince, and the ten­sion it cre­ates just makes you want to hear a con­so­nant in­ter­val as soon as pos­si­ble after it – a con­cept that’s known in mu­sic the­ory cir­cles as res­o­lu­tion.

Dis­so­nance can be used to great ef­fect in com­po­si­tion to evoke emo­tion. Pretty much the whole spec­trum – from wist­ful sad­ness and poignancy through to out­right fear and ter­ror ( Psy­cho shower scene any­one?) – can be trans­mit­ted through art­ful use of it.

This month, then, I’ll delve into which in­ter­vals qual­ify as con­so­nant or dis­so­nant, and show a cou­ple of ways in which you can ex­ploit the con­trast be­tween the two, to add a touch of so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the mu­sic you cre­ate.

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