ANSWERS: 1
  • Dissonance/consonance is really a spectrum... To put musical intervals in visual terms, imagine three printings of a picture in a newspaper, with red, yellow and blue layers. One print is clear, the colors are lined up, edges are clear, the picture is not blurry. This could be likened to consonance. The second picture has been poorly printed (or purposefully misaligned by an avant-garde print-maker) and the different colors are printed slightly off of each other (we've all seen this in a newspaper). Edges are confusing, blurry, and the picture may make your eyes hurt, even make you sick to your stomache to look too long. This could be likened to extreme musical dissonance. Remember that the color prints are close, but not exactly matching. They interfere with each other. Now imagine a third print. The colors are again offset, however, this time by a wider margin, perhaps 1" away from each other in a 5" picture. While disconcerting, the images don't interfere with each other in the sense that the second print does. The picture may look odd but artful and interesting. This could be likened to the moderate dissonance of a minor chord or harmony. When two of the same notes in different octaves are played, the frequencies line up in a similar way to the first print, for instance, approximately 440Hz and 880Hz, for a ratio of 1:2. Other consonant ratios are 2:3 and 3:4. More dissonant "unstable" ratios like in the second print might be 13:14. The ratios in the third print would be in between. Major chords sound happy and light, energetic and positive, or emphatic and stable, and as such are used for happy falling-in-love type songs, many dance songs, and national anthems. Minor chords tend to sound sad and gloomy, emotional, moving and angsty. They are commonly used in tension filled songs, such as "break-up" songs, or in movie scores to add drama. Extreme dissonance can sound scary (Hitchcock's "Psycho" music), angry, frenetic, mechanical, or irritating. It can be found in avant-garde compositions and metal, industrial, and hardcore music. It's important to note that just listening to major chords all day will get extremely boring for practically anyone. We tend to like some level of dissonance, just as we like dramatic tension in movies. The important thing for a composer or music writer to remember is to make the piece dynamic by changing the amount of dissonance used over time. Exactly why the brain interprets intervals or ratios emotionally is a bit of a mystery, perhaps better explained by a neurologist or psychologist.

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