why do consonant intervals sound “good” and dissonant intervals sound “bad”?

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this is coming from a western classical perspective. i have a basic education in music theory and aural skills but i don’t know why some intervals/chords sound so tense and are associated with bad emotions (sad, scared, etc) while some sound easy on the ears and are associated with good emotions (happiness, comfort, divinity).

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6 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Very, very roughly speaking it seems to be how simple the ratio between the two competing frequencies is.

Octaves are 1:2 since they are essentially the same frequency multiplied by 2 or divided by 2 (again massive simplification). Being 1:1 (unison) is the most consonant “good” sound with octave being after that.

A perfect 5th is a 2:3 ratio , pretty simple but not as simple as 1:1 or 1:2.

A perfect 4th is 3:4, and so on and so on in decreasing consonance.

The tri-tone (most dissonant tone) is a 32:45 ratio.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be much simpler. It’s a surprisingly complex topic and depends on a lot of assumptions and complex mathematics.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Very, very roughly speaking it seems to be how simple the ratio between the two competing frequencies is.

Octaves are 1:2 since they are essentially the same frequency multiplied by 2 or divided by 2 (again massive simplification). Being 1:1 (unison) is the most consonant “good” sound with octave being after that.

A perfect 5th is a 2:3 ratio , pretty simple but not as simple as 1:1 or 1:2.

A perfect 4th is 3:4, and so on and so on in decreasing consonance.

The tri-tone (most dissonant tone) is a 32:45 ratio.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be much simpler. It’s a surprisingly complex topic and depends on a lot of assumptions and complex mathematics.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Very, very roughly speaking it seems to be how simple the ratio between the two competing frequencies is.

Octaves are 1:2 since they are essentially the same frequency multiplied by 2 or divided by 2 (again massive simplification). Being 1:1 (unison) is the most consonant “good” sound with octave being after that.

A perfect 5th is a 2:3 ratio , pretty simple but not as simple as 1:1 or 1:2.

A perfect 4th is 3:4, and so on and so on in decreasing consonance.

The tri-tone (most dissonant tone) is a 32:45 ratio.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be much simpler. It’s a surprisingly complex topic and depends on a lot of assumptions and complex mathematics.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Writing this as a musician of 2+ decades and an amateur enthusiast of microtonal music and psychoacoustics.

The answer to your question is trivial, since we call intervals that sound “good” consonant and ones that sound “bad” dissonant.

However, to delve into why it is that some intervals sound good and others sound bad, the short answer is that we don’t know. Culture appears to have a major influence here with how certain maqam (arabic equivalent of modes, sort of) are perceived differently depending on the cultural background of the listener. There also isn’t wide agreement on which twelve tone equal temperament intervals are more or less consonant.

People broadly seem to agree on the consonance of octaves and fifths, but beyond that it gets muddy rather quick, even accounting for how 12TET is inaccurate to the true intervals (this is a whole other level of discussion, look up just intonation for a place to start). There are intervals that are simpler in terms of ratios that are perceived as less consonant and vice versa.

Furthermore, I can’t find the study now which bothers me, but the brains ability to “complete” notes from overtones (see [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_fundamental](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_fundamental) ) seems to be influenced by culture and learned patterns.

This is a bit all over the place, but tl;dr: It’s a very deep subject and as far as I know, the jury is out on anything conclusive.

Part of the problem is defining consonance. You can have a Huygen’s tritone at 7/5, but I don’t know how to categorize it relative to say the subminor third at 7/6. I would say the latter interval sounds “better” or certainly easier to integrate, but what specifically do I mean by that? The latter has a more easily perceivable [beat](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(acoustics)) yet somehow sounds more… Well, we’re debating what consonance means, so I can’t say it sounds more consonant, but defaulting to emotional imagery I feel like it’s more mellow and I guess less “greedy” in terms of the attention it commands?

If we think of dissonance as producing tension that needs resolution (itself a bit vague if you want to be pedantic about it) then the Huygen’s tritone (or a close approximation of it) at 7/5 is to my ears much more dissonant than the subminor third at 7/6. I just tested this with a sine wave using 31edo which approximates both intervals with an error of about 3 cents.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Writing this as a musician of 2+ decades and an amateur enthusiast of microtonal music and psychoacoustics.

The answer to your question is trivial, since we call intervals that sound “good” consonant and ones that sound “bad” dissonant.

However, to delve into why it is that some intervals sound good and others sound bad, the short answer is that we don’t know. Culture appears to have a major influence here with how certain maqam (arabic equivalent of modes, sort of) are perceived differently depending on the cultural background of the listener. There also isn’t wide agreement on which twelve tone equal temperament intervals are more or less consonant.

People broadly seem to agree on the consonance of octaves and fifths, but beyond that it gets muddy rather quick, even accounting for how 12TET is inaccurate to the true intervals (this is a whole other level of discussion, look up just intonation for a place to start). There are intervals that are simpler in terms of ratios that are perceived as less consonant and vice versa.

Furthermore, I can’t find the study now which bothers me, but the brains ability to “complete” notes from overtones (see [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_fundamental](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_fundamental) ) seems to be influenced by culture and learned patterns.

This is a bit all over the place, but tl;dr: It’s a very deep subject and as far as I know, the jury is out on anything conclusive.

Part of the problem is defining consonance. You can have a Huygen’s tritone at 7/5, but I don’t know how to categorize it relative to say the subminor third at 7/6. I would say the latter interval sounds “better” or certainly easier to integrate, but what specifically do I mean by that? The latter has a more easily perceivable [beat](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(acoustics)) yet somehow sounds more… Well, we’re debating what consonance means, so I can’t say it sounds more consonant, but defaulting to emotional imagery I feel like it’s more mellow and I guess less “greedy” in terms of the attention it commands?

If we think of dissonance as producing tension that needs resolution (itself a bit vague if you want to be pedantic about it) then the Huygen’s tritone (or a close approximation of it) at 7/5 is to my ears much more dissonant than the subminor third at 7/6. I just tested this with a sine wave using 31edo which approximates both intervals with an error of about 3 cents.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Writing this as a musician of 2+ decades and an amateur enthusiast of microtonal music and psychoacoustics.

The answer to your question is trivial, since we call intervals that sound “good” consonant and ones that sound “bad” dissonant.

However, to delve into why it is that some intervals sound good and others sound bad, the short answer is that we don’t know. Culture appears to have a major influence here with how certain maqam (arabic equivalent of modes, sort of) are perceived differently depending on the cultural background of the listener. There also isn’t wide agreement on which twelve tone equal temperament intervals are more or less consonant.

People broadly seem to agree on the consonance of octaves and fifths, but beyond that it gets muddy rather quick, even accounting for how 12TET is inaccurate to the true intervals (this is a whole other level of discussion, look up just intonation for a place to start). There are intervals that are simpler in terms of ratios that are perceived as less consonant and vice versa.

Furthermore, I can’t find the study now which bothers me, but the brains ability to “complete” notes from overtones (see [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_fundamental](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_fundamental) ) seems to be influenced by culture and learned patterns.

This is a bit all over the place, but tl;dr: It’s a very deep subject and as far as I know, the jury is out on anything conclusive.

Part of the problem is defining consonance. You can have a Huygen’s tritone at 7/5, but I don’t know how to categorize it relative to say the subminor third at 7/6. I would say the latter interval sounds “better” or certainly easier to integrate, but what specifically do I mean by that? The latter has a more easily perceivable [beat](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(acoustics)) yet somehow sounds more… Well, we’re debating what consonance means, so I can’t say it sounds more consonant, but defaulting to emotional imagery I feel like it’s more mellow and I guess less “greedy” in terms of the attention it commands?

If we think of dissonance as producing tension that needs resolution (itself a bit vague if you want to be pedantic about it) then the Huygen’s tritone (or a close approximation of it) at 7/5 is to my ears much more dissonant than the subminor third at 7/6. I just tested this with a sine wave using 31edo which approximates both intervals with an error of about 3 cents.