In music, dissonance is the opposite of consonance. Both are words applied to harmony, chordss, and intervalss: sounds which are dissonant seem unstable, and have an aural need to resolve to a stable consonance. The most strict definition of dissonance may be all sounds which are unpleasant, while the most general definition includes only those which are restricted in their use.

In general the closer the frequencies of two pitches the more dissonant they are. As two pitches approach each other they begin to produce beat oscillations, which are caused when the two pitches cause interference, or reinforce and cancel each others amplitudes.

Dissonance has been defined differently by different people in different places at different times. Western musical history can be seen as progessing towards a wider definition of consonance, culminating in the "emancipation of the dissonance", such as in the view of Arnold Schoenberg. Henry Cowell viewed tone clusters as the use of higher and higher overtones.

While, as can be seen from the above paragraph, the perception of dissonance is obviously culturally influenced, dissonance may also have some objective basis. Consonance between two notes can be defined as greater coincidence of their harmonics or partials, which collectively are overtones. Dissonance is then defined by the amount of beating between non-common harmonics.

In what is now called the common practice period dissonant intervals include:

  • minor second and major seventh
  • major second and minor seventh
  • augmented fourth and diminished fifth (tritone)
This is as would be taught in a beginning theory class, but intervals such as the perfect fourth and thirds were once considered forbidden dissonances.

See also Cognitive dissonance, consonance.

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In poetry, dissonance is the deliberate avoidance of patterns of repeated vowel sounds (see assonance).

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