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Practice Procedures: Part 8: Tracking Consonance and Dissonance From Moment to Moment

March 31, 2017

To demonstrate this procedure, play, extremely slowly a C Major Scale from c4 to c5.  Spend several seconds on each note.  With each note of the scale play, in the left hand, a C Major Triad (c3-e3-g3).

Some of the notes in the C Major scale blend well with the C Major Triad.  Others create a dissonance with the Triad.  With each new note from the scale, spend some time to notice how well the note of the scale sounds with the chord in the left hand.  To put it another way, you can ask yourself how dissonant the scale note is with the C Major chord.

If you listen sensitively, not only will you be aware of how each note of the scale is ‘getting along‘ with the chord or ‘not getting along‘ with the chord.  As you concentrate on this getting-along or not-getting-along start asking there is any individuality in the way the note is consonant or dissonant with the chord.  Is it more than just simply it does or does not blend nicely with the chord.  Is there an individual quality to its relationship with the chord.  It’s this individual quality to which we want to become sensitive.

We normally are not aware all the time of how the shorter notes (usually in the right hand) are getting along with the longer notes (usually in the left hand).   In our specific example of the C Major scale sounding together with a C Major chord, we might generalize and say that scale as a whole ‘sounds good’ with the chord.   This is far from the case though for the musician who is tracking the music from moment to moment.


By moving from one note of the scale to the next adjacent note in the scale, we should be aware of a constantly altering, constantly fluctuating, flame of dissonance.   Sometimes of one color, sometimes of another.

We are missing much of the most quickly evolving emotional drama of a piece by not hearing, the dissonances between melody notes and longer lasting chords.  Ordinarily we tend to tune out this constantly changing kaleidoscope of dissonances.  Our brain does not like to work that fast within a passage.  The result is that the greatest source of riches in the chord-melody relationship are missed.

Ordinarily our brain loses track of the presence of a ‘governing’ chord since the acoustic properties of the piano cause the chord to gradually get softer and softer, unless the composer takes steps to keep the chord present and  alive.   Otherwise, to accentuate this changing relationship between melody and chord we can, as a practice technique, replay the chord in its entirety with each new melody note.  We would then have little choice but to recognize the rapidly altering but distinct aesthetic effect resulting from how each note gets along with each chord.

There will be much more to say about this, including about the significance of what we may have learned in music school about the “tones of embellishment” (which for our purposes might better be termed ‘tones of emotion’).

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