Consonance and Dissonance

Thadaa! (Drum roll)

The GEC Music Hub is back in action, with this 2nd article !


This time, let’s try to understand the concept of CONSONANCE & DISSONANCE in music. Well, sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it?.. But trust me, it isn’t. 😛

CONSONANCE embodies the sweetness of a tone whereas DISSONANCE, the “beauty lies in imperfections” aspect.

This article primarily focuses on the western 12 tone scale (a.k.a equitempered scale).

The equal tempered scale consists of 12 notes within an octave.

Now, imagine a rectangle divided equally into 12 parts; each of the 12 parts represents one musical note. Each note corresponds to a frequency. This implies that if n is the first note, then n+n is the second note and so on.

Consider the C major scale (read article 1):


In relation to C, the consonant tones are F and G.

The remaining 4 notes are referred to as colour tones. These tones are dissonant or less sweeter sounding than the consonant tones.


Your ears guide you through consonance and dissonance. They acknowledge what is sweet or even sweeter ,what’s pleasant and what sounds terrible.

Consonance and dissonance are a function of relativity.

Now as our ear perceives it, the first note C and the fifth note G are the prettiest, followed by the 4th note F in relation to C (hence, whilst playing chords, musicians may opt to play only the C and G from a 3 note  C major chord  having  the notes C E G and omit the E. Guitarists and pianists tend to play the C and G and omit the E in rock music type scenarios.)

The other 9 notes, dissonant in relation to the first note, aren’t as sweet sounding as the other three in relation to the 1st note of the scale (considering the 12 tone chromatic scale).

This is because the equi-tempered system of dividing  the octave into equal parts isn’t tonally sound to the human ear.

Over the years our ears have got so used to dissonance (atonality) that unless you train your ears to judge the sweetness of a note, all remains under the veil.

The dissonant aspect can be noticed when a pianist plays two near notes together. They simply don’t blend (a jarring sound can be heard), whereas if the root note and the 5th is played simultaneously,  it sounds a lot more sweeter.

Ooh A ScENariO! 😛

2 instrumentalists meet up – a guitar player and a sitar player. They happen to decide to play the same song. The guitar is primarily an equitempered instrument.The sitar follows a tuning system which is based on pure intervals. In the pure interval system, successive notes are tuned to unequal intervals within the octave itself, such that each succeeding note blends with the next note when played together producing minimal sense of unrest. Our ears can hear the consonance between the two notes in relation to one another. Hence ,the sitar sounds more melodic as compared to the guitar (sorry guitarist 😛 ,please take note of the fact that the guitar is one screwed up instrument!).

Over the years the equitempered system flourished and now has become a sort of a standard worldwide due to commerce and the ease of manufacturing  involved.

Consonance touches the heart – it resonates instantly with our mind and body, but dissonance helps paint a picture. Indian classical music is very consonant to the ear, whereas jazz, metal, or other simpler pop genres give dissonance its character!

These tones coexist in a symbiotic relationship (:P), feeling helpless without the other.

Consonance and dissonance have been set by the rules of nature. None of us can defy it.

Then again, doesn’t beauty lie in the eye of the beholder?




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