Basic Dissonance

Ever wondered about Dissonance, or how to use it in your playing? Here it is.

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Introduction

Dissonance. Dissonance is when two notes or tones sound unpleasant when combined, and do not harmonize. I suppose there's a technical explanation as well, but I don't know it. A dissonant note can be found easily. Make a mistake. That's what dissonance is. Playing a note outside a scale is an easy way to find it.

In essence, dissonance can add an expressive feel to your playing. You can develop your scale chops perfectly, and be able to play them at Mach I, but yet not be able to feel expressive. When you use dissonance, it adds almost a vocal quality to the pattern, allowing the lick to sing.

How To Do It

Alright. We're going to use a simple A Minor Pentatonic to demonstrate dissonance. For those who don't know, the A Minor Pentatonic looks like this:

e|-----------------------------------5--8------------------------------------| B|-----------------------------5--8------------------------------------------| G|-----------------------5--7------------------------------------------------| D|-----------------5--7------------------------------------------------------| A|-----------5--7------------------------------------------------------------| E|-----5--8------------------------------------------------------------------|

Simple, no? Now, let's look at a simple A Minor lick:

^1/2 e|---------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|---------------------------------------------------------------------------| G|----7---7--5---------------------------------------------------------------| D|---------------7-----5--7--------------------------------------------------| A|------------------7--------------------------------------------------------| E|---------------------------------------------------------------------------|

Simple and straightforward, pretty common too. But if you add dissonance to the lick, it becomes more expressive and noticeable:

^1/2 e|---------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|-----------------------4---------------------------------------------------| G|---7---7--5----------------------------------------------------------------| D|-------------7-----5--7-----------------------------------------------------| A|----------------7----------------------------------------------------------| E|---------------------------------------------------------------------------|

Immediately after you hit the final A, jump your index finger to the 4th fret on the B string and allow both notes to ring.

Here is a list of dissonant notes that I use most of the time in A Minor:

e|--5------------7-------6---------------------------------------------------| B|------4----------------5---7---5-------------------------------------------| G|--8-------6----5-----------5---7-------------------------------------------| D|------7---5--------6-------------------------------------------------------| A|---------------------------------------------------------------------------| E|-------------------5-------------------------------------------------------|

The list goes on and on and on. Just try to find notes that sound bad together.

One other way I play dissonant notes is by playing regular, perfect sounding notes together, and then bending one of them slightly to create dissonance.

*Bend 7 slightly* *Bend 7 Slightly* e|--------------------------5------------------------------------------------| B|--------------------------7------------------------------------------------| G|---5-----------------------------------------------------------------------| D|---7-----------------------------------------------------------------------| A|---------------------------------------------------------------------------| E|---------------------------------------------------------------------------|

And so on. You get the idea.

The last technique is self explanatory. During a scale, lick, or pattern, just strike an open string that clashes horribly with the scale you're playing in. Strike an open B on either of the high E string notes, extreme dissonance ensues. Easy enough.

Conclusion

Dissonance is extremely important to guitar players. If you don't exploit it in your playing, you at least should have a basic understanding, because it affects your playing every time you accidentally hit an open string, or every time you miss a fret, or are out of tune.

This is my first Column, so please leave your opinions.

- Shard Heilia (ShardNet@gmail.com)

32 comments sorted by best / new / date

    ProgIsGood
    Dissonance is the ultimate way to create tension in a solo. I use it all the time, it doesn't always end up sounding bad either. Normally it just adds to the overall feel/interest of the solo. What you explained in here is called a tritone. other dissonant tones are the minor second, major seventh(only if used in the wrong place) and flat 9th.
    alex3996
    listen to meshuggah, they almost only play dissonant chords in their songs
    jake4491
    Thats not all the time true, sure it is important to notice it. But Eddie Van Halen somtimes hits open strings during solos even way up to the 17th fret and it doesnt sound bad at all. It brings a newer taste in the solo.
    Charlatan_001
    Dillinger Escape Plan, Neurosis, Isis, Cult of Luna: all bands that have mastered dissonance.
    Its_Rock77
    good article, but the things you stated seemed too "obvious". IMO you should of dove deeper into the theory and such.
    swinghead
    i think it's not a good article because of the content, on the other hand it's quite well written
    ironman316
    good article. most hardcore bands use dissonance in some way or another. breakdowns and such. it's fun to play too.
    6stringsdown
    kevinm4435 wrote: This article gives no real method to easily create dissonance. You should have included basic information about the harmonic theory of certain intervals.
    The article told you that playing notes outside of scales during those scales will result in a note which sounds off pitch or out of key, and that this is dissonance. How much more specific does the author really need to be? As for the theory behind it, I don't think he was aiming for a theory-based column. It was clear, to the point, and informative. I can see this helping people who are starting out.
    SkyValley
    Listen to later Porcupine Tree stuff for excellent examples of properly used dissonance.
    JoshUrban
    Shard, Nice article. I think you bring up an important point of introducing tension into music. After all, this is rock, not elevator music! Experimentation is vital to our art form. Please keep on writing, keep on experimenting, and keep on playing. - Josh www.joshurban.blogspot.com
    guitarsolo_17
    Vantage wrote: Buckethead comes into my mind when I think of dissonant notes..
    Buckethead usually just comes to mind anyway.....catchy...and amazing....Night of the Slunk comes to mind alooooottttt for no reason at all
    Nightfyre
    Doodleface wrote: ProgIsGood wrote: Dissonance is the ultimate way to create tension in a solo. I use it all the time, it doesn't always end up sounding bad either. Normally it just adds to the overall feel/interest of the solo. What you explained in here is called a tritone. other dissonant tones are the minor second, major seventh(only if used in the wrong place) and flat 9th. flat 5ths can give a dissonant feel as well, not as dissonant as what you listed, but still usefull!
    a flat 5th, enharmonic to a sharp 4th, is a tritone. tritones, as the person you quoted noted, are covered in the article. they're generally regarded as one of the most dissonant tones, and are actually quite common in jazz to add flavor as a #4, b5, or #11. b12 isn't too common. good article, but could use some more depth, especially in regard to placement and how you should resolve them to a consonant tone afterwards and which tone each dissonant tone should usually resolve to.
    kevinm4435
    This article gives no real method to easily create dissonance. You should have included basic information about the harmonic theory of certain intervals.
    spikedemon!
    No Easy Method? Are ye dumb? play out of scale. thats it. play anything that sounds bad.
    Shard Heilia
    Thanks for the feedback. Like I said, it was my first article. I'll keep this in mind when I write more.
    SL!!!
    jamie[wls] wrote: yeep purple haze intro is tritones i don't like this article that much. i like dissonance too, but this article pretty much just says play a bad note every now and then. it has to be put in the right spot and have the right musical effect listen to norma jean. they are kings of dissonance. if you're into that.
    Yeah, this article was not very good. He should have explained intervals, that really would have been much more helpful to beginners. Also, any two notes played together is harmonization, you can harmonize but have a dissonant chord. ps - norma jean aren't kings of dissonance, they're a big Botch rip-off....that said...most real hardcore bands use tons of dissonance. I like it.
    DiabeticBoy
    Very important technique to learn about, but you should probably rewrite it after learning the theory. All you need to know is augmented seconds and diminished fifths, really. Tritones and augmented chords, ie: E-0---0-- B-2---1-- G-3---1-- D-5---2-- The first one's a diminished chord (E, G, Bb or Db depending on the bass note) and the second's an augmented (E, C or Ab, depending again). Hope this helps guys.
    Doodleface
    ProgIsGood wrote: Dissonance is the ultimate way to create tension in a solo. I use it all the time, it doesn't always end up sounding bad either. Normally it just adds to the overall feel/interest of the solo. What you explained in here is called a tritone. other dissonant tones are the minor second, major seventh(only if used in the wrong place) and flat 9th.
    flat 5ths can give a dissonant feel as well, not as dissonant as what you listed, but still usefull!
    jamie[wls]
    yeep purple haze intro is tritones i don't like this article that much. i like dissonance too, but this article pretty much just says play a bad note every now and then. it has to be put in the right spot and have the right musical effect listen to norma jean. they are kings of dissonance. if you're into that.
    Gimme_GilMORE
    No i think in the purple haze intro the bassist hits dissonant notes while jimi is playing octaves...not 100% sure though
    HavokStrife
    This was a really good read for me. Pretty lame it's got such a low rating. And as for a way to easily create dissonance... it was stated that anything going outside of the key is essentially dissonance. So to easily create dissonance, play something outside of the key, duh.
    Shard Heilia
    kevinm4435 wrote: This article gives no real method to easily create dissonance. You should have included basic information about the harmonic theory of certain intervals.
    kevinm4435 wrote: This article gives no real method to easily create dissonance. You should have included basic information about the harmonic theory of certain intervals.
    Heh. Sounds like something I should learn. Probably why I didn't include it. xD It was mostly just about using relative dissonance between two notes in a solo to add tension and voice, like Progls said.
    camenochs
    kevinm4435 wrote: This article gives no real method to easily create dissonance. You should have included basic information about the harmonic theory of certain intervals.
    / /stupid!!! that was simple! you dont need stinkin lessons to learn how to play wrong notes!