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The term "consonance" comes from the Latin consonare which means simply `sounding together'. In early western music theory the term became synonymous with a harmonic interval. However, later theorists used the term to refer to particularly euphonious or harmonious intervals. From there, the term was generalized to triads, tetrads and then to sonorities generated by any number of tones. In both theoretical and experimental writings, researchers have used a wide variety of terms. These have included terms such as: pleasant, unpleasant, euphonious, beautiful, ugly, rough, smooth, fused, pure, diffuse, tense, and relaxed. Some researchers have treated such terms as synonymous. Others have assumed that the differences are minor -- that is, when asked to judge how ______ a sound is, listeners will respond in roughly the same manner. Other research have assumed that each of these terms generates an entirely different response.
Van de Geer, Levelt & Plomp (1962)
Van de Geer, Levelt & Plomp (1962) carried out an important study where they asked Dutch listeners to judge tone pairs according to ten different scales:
English Dutch high-low (hoog-laag) sharp-round (scherp-rond) beautiful-ugly (mooi-lelijk) active-passive (actief-passief) consonance-dissonant (consonant-dissonant) euphonious-diseuphonious (welluidend-onweeluidend) wide-narrow (wijd-nauw) sounds like one tone-sounds like more tones (klinkt als een toon-klinkt als meer tonen) tense-quiet (gespanen-rustig) rough-smooth (ruw-glad)
Non-musician listeners judged each harmonic interval using a 7-point scale for each semantic term. Using factor analysis, van de Geer, Levelt and Plomp found that the responses grouped into three independent factors. The analysis produced three statistically significant factors. One factor (dubbed pitch) included the scales high, sharp, tense, narrow, and active. A second factor (dubbed pleasantness) included the scales euphonious, consonant, and beautiful. A third factor (dubbedfusion) included the scales rough, more tones and fusion.
The first factor (pitch) was found to correlate directly with the mean frequency of the pitches used in the interval. Van de Geer, Levelt and Plomp (1962) made the following three conclusions in their study: 1. Musical intervals are judged using three basic dimensions: pitch height, pleasantness, and fusion. 2. Musicians and non-musicians use the term "consonant" differently. Musicians typically consider unisons, octaves, fifths and fourths as the most consonant, whereas non-musicians typically experience thirds and sixths as being more consonant. Non-musicians conceive of "consonance" primarily in terms of pleasantness. 3. There is no straightforward relationship between consonance and fusion. The main lesson from Van de Geer, Levelt and Plomp (1962) is that care must be taken when instructing listeners to judge intervals. Some terms are largely synonymous (such as euphonious and pleasant), whereas other terms are not interchangeable (such as pleasant and fused).
Some Notes Regarding Tuning and Temperament
Suppose we wanted to create a scale that permitted only justly tuned intervals. All octaves would have a frequency ratio of 2:1, all fifths would have a frequency ratio of 3:2, all major thirds would have a frequency ratio of 5:4, and so on. We might also require that all major seconds have a frequency ratio of 9:8. It can be shown that mathematically that such an "ideal" tuning system is impossible. Consider, for example, the goal of having both perfect fifths and perfect octaves. Let's begin with the tone A-440 Hz, and tune a series of 12 fifths:
A4-E5 440 X 3/2 = 660 Hz
660 X 3/2 = 990 Hz
Transposed down one octave = 495 Hz
495 X 3/2 = 742.5 Hz
742.5 X 3/2 = 1113.75 Hz
Transposed down one octave = 556.875
556.875 X 3/2 = 835.3125 Hz
Transposed down one octave = 417.66
417.66 X 3/2 = 626.4844 Hz
626.4844 X 3/2 = 939.7266 Hz
Transposed down one octave = 469.8633
469.8633 X 3/2 = 704.7949 Hz
704.7949 X 3/2 = 1057.1824 Hz
Transposed down one octave = 528.5962
528.5962 X 3/2 = 792.8943 Hz
792.8943 X 3/2 = 1189.34123 Hz
Transposed down one octave = 594.6707
594.6707 X 3/2 = 892.0061 Hz
Transposed down one octave =446.0030
Notice that we began with A-440 Hz and ended with A-446 Hz. This difference is known as the Pythagorean comma and has been known since ancient times. Thecomma amounts to 23 hundreds of a semitone (or 23 cents). The Pythagorean comma arises from the fact that the powers of 2 and the powers of 3 never intersect. That is, 2 X 2 X 2 ... can never converge with the series 3 X 3 X 3 ... Of course it is possible to continuing tuning more fifths that just 12. The "circle" of fifths approaches the starting point after 12, 41, and 53 tunings of fifths. As the number of tones increases, the size of the comma gets smaller,
such as in the musics of Bali and Java. most listeners find such adaptive tuning to be unpleasant. A final disadvantage is that . Unfortunately. it is impossible to ensure that both the harmonic and melodic intervals are just. Reduced Pitch Set A second way of minimizing the Pythagorean comma is to limit the musicmaking to a small number of notes. Once you add harmony. For many melodies. where the tuning of each successive note in a sequence is adjusted so that just intervals are always used. There are four general ways of dealing with the Pythagorean comma: (1) ignore it. Dynamic Tuning A third approach is to continuously adapt the tuning as the music unfolds. who created his own musical instruments capable of playing 43 notes per octave. No scale can be created where every pitch provides a just octave interval and a just major third. one might limit music-making to a couple of drone tones tuned a fifth apart. it was possible to use tuning systems optimized for particular keys (like C major). It is therefore impossible to create a scale that provides a just octave interval from every note as well as a just fifth from every note. (3) adapt to it. Expanded Pitch Set There are two ways of minimizing the Pythagorean comma. Before the classical period.but it never goes away entirely. Even better. (2) minimize it. Consequently. This can be done with a computer. the common tuning systems bear little similarity to just intervals. One is to create a tuning system with so many notes per octave that the mistuning is small. Nor can a scale be constructed that provides a just octave and just major third from every pitch. in many musical cultures. modulation to different keys was uncommon. so it is possible that there is no underlying preference for just intervals. No number of tunings will return you to the precise starting point. It is possible to tune a pentatonic scale so that most intervals are fairly close to their just values. this adaptive approach causes the "tonic" pitch to vary over the course of a melody: the "doh" you end with will not necessarily match the "doh" you begin with. Indeed. This approach is evident in the music of Harry Partch. A similar case can be made for just major thirds (5:4 ratio). The first approach is to simply abandon the goal of creating music using just intervals. or (4) hide it. Another problem with this approach is that it only works for single-note melodies.
9 +5.0 Meantone Tuning -5. Masking the Comma The history of Western music has relied almost exclusively on the fourth approach: mask or hide the Pythagorean comma in some way.0 -14. There are several ways to mask the effect of the non-just tunings.8 -7.4 0.0 +21. Research has also shown that listeners have greater difficulty hearing mistunings of tones that are short in duration.4 Salinas Tuning -7. The numerical values in the table indicate how much a given interval deviates from the just interval in cents (hundredths of semitones).3 +14. Normally.2 -7. people consider hiding the Pythagorean comma by using a "compromise" tuning system.8 +5.5 Equal Temperament -2.4 -10.2 0. does the difference matter? .5 0. The following table characterizes just five.7 Silbermann Tuning -3.9 -9.3 Is there any way to judge whether one temperament is better than another? Can listeners hear the difference? If they can hear the difference.7 -15.0 -21.adaptive tuning is really only practical using a computer.5 -21. These compromise systems are referred to as "temperaments".6 -3. Name of Tuning System Fifth Major Third Minor Third Major Second Minor Second Pythagorean Tuning 0.9 -11. A simple approach is to add vibrato so mistunings are difficult to hear.8 -2. So composing music using durations that are predominantly less than half a second will mask the effects of mistuning. Lots of temperaments have been advocated over the centuries. It would be a significant challenge for human performers to adopt adaptive tuning.0 +13. The most popular compromise tunings spread the comma over a number of notes.0 -5.
Thirdly. In vision. the perception of pitch has been shown to be categorical in nature. . many ethnomusicologists have tended to assume that the differences in perception between cultures are patently obvious. Carl Seashore measured the pitch accuracy of real performers and showed that singers and violinists are remarkably inaccurate. they assume there is no need to carry out experiments to test their intuitions. By contrast.Effect of Culture What is the role of culture in the phenomena of consonance and dissonance? We might expect that judgements of consonance and dissonance rely to some extent on exposure to a musical culture -.that is. This means that even if performers could perform very accurately. psychoacousticians assume there is no need to repeat experiments with people from different cultures. professional piano tuners fail to tune notes more accurately than about 8 cents. Some experiments imply that judgements of consonance/dissonance are sensitive to cultural background whereas other evidence implies that such judgements are not especially sensitive to cultural background. on average. Most Western listeners find just intonation "weird" sounding rather than "better". depressingly few pertinent experiments have been carried out. Consonance and Dissonance . many psychoacousticians have tended to assume that the auditory periphery plans the preeminent role in consonance/dissonance perception. Although many people have speculated about the effect of culture on judgements of consonance/dissonance. Similarly. in the 1930s. The poverty of experimental work in this area is a sad indictment of those who tend to pre-judge the issues.There are four main reasons why modern scholars have lost interest in the question of what is the best tuning system. One the one hand.which tend to dominant music-making. Yet Western listeners (and musicians) are not noticeable disturbed by the pitch intonation of professional performers. Moreover. the pitch accuracy is on the order of 25 cents. Finally. Since the human hearing organ changes little around the world. listeners tend to mentally "re-code" mis-tuned pitches so they are experienced as falling in the correct category. listeners seemingly adapt to whatever system they have been exposed to. See the results of Vos (1986). to learning. This insensitivity is especially marked for short duration sounds -. they would find it difficult to find suitable instruments. For non-fixed-pitch instruments. Mis-tuning must be remarkably large (>50 cents) before they draw much attention. First. The existing experimental evidence is mixed. Once again. Secondly. many shades of red will be perceived as "red". professional musicians appear to prefer equally tempered intervals to their just counterparts.
that Vos had his musicians judge the acceptability of the intervals rather than the consonance. perfect fifths are mistuned by two cents (two onehundreds of a semitone). it appears that western musician subjects judged the slightly small interval as more acceptable than the just perfect fifth.Enculturation of Acceptable Tuning By way of illustration. each listener was given a . Joos Vos (1987) had 18 Western musicians judge the acceptability of tunings for various tempered perfect fifths. Both American and Japanese listeners were asked to judge the consonance of various equally-tempered intervals. In addition. consider the following data. Janet Butler and Paul Daston carried out a study of consonance and dissonance where they compared American and Japanese listeners. Butler and Daston In 1968.25 seconds (fast presentation) and 0. Specifically. Notice. pleasantness or some other criterion. This result is consistent with a learned preference arising from cultural exposure. however. equally-tempered fifths are smaller by two cents. In general.50 (slow presentation). The graph below shows the results for tone durations of 0. In the Western equal temperament tuning system. Notice that the results are skewed to the left of the perfectly just fifth (0 cents deviation).
88 Japanese 0.95 0.89 0. Unaware of the work of Plomp & Levelt (1965) and Kameoka & Kuriyagawa (1969).discrimination task where they were required to make same/different judgments for six paired dyads.97 0.98 0.95 0. Finally.90 0.82) occurs between those American listeners who scored best on interval discrimination task and the Japanese listeners who preferred Japanese music.92 0. Group American* American 0.88 Japanese*+ 0.85 0.82 The results show evidence of both strong similarities between Japanese and American listeners. Lundin (1947) carried out an experiment where Japanese and Western listeners were contrasted.86 0.99 0.99 0. If there are significant differences between the music listening of Japanese and American listeners.997 0.99 0.83 0. Butler and Daston asked their Japanese listeners to indicate whether they preferred Western music or traditional Japanese music.96 0. the results show a general consistency between Japanese and American listeners.93 0. Cazden (1980) argued that the evidence in support of acoustic and physiological accounts of consonance and dissonance is weak.98 0. Cazden's Expectation Dissonance Music theorist Norman Cazden wrote a number of articles on consonance and dissonance spanning the period 1942-1980. The cross (+) indicates Japanese listeners who stated that they preferred traditional Japanese music over Western music.88 0. and also some evidence of culture difference.99 0.88 Japanese+ 0.96 0.91 0.94 0. The asterisk (*) indicates listeners who performed perfectly on the interval discrimination task. The following table shows the Spearman rank-order correlations between the various subject groups. He did not doubt that a low-level sonorous .98 0. that difference is not to be found in judgments of the consonance of isolated dyads.88 American* American Japanese* Japanese Japanese*+ Japanese+ 0.92 0. The lowest correlation (0. In general.99 Japanese* 0.
Cazden (1980) provides the following table of distinctions and their scholarly origins: Sonorous/Static Euphonie Eufonia Consonance physique Konsonanz . ". in principle. the terms consonance and dissonance proper may be reserved instead for those particular musical distinctions observed in the practice of Western tonal music" (Cazden. but he regarded the musical significance of this phenomenon to be marginal: ".Dissonanz Dissonanzbehandlung consonanza armonica Aesthetic consonance Harmonieführung Jonquière Louis. Harmoniegefühl Hennig Dissonanz akustischer Konsonanz .. de la Fage Basevi Renaud Wundt Stumpf Stumpf Konsonanz Objectiv.Kompliziert Auflösungbedürfnis Konsonanz .155) Cazden's distinction between euphony and consonance/dissonance is echoed in the writings of many scholars. 1980. Konsonanzgefühl Harmonie Subjektiv.unpleasantness (what he called euphony exists. With euphony thus distinguished.Dissonanz Dissonanzkonstatieren consonanza acustica Sensorial consonance Einfach ..Disharmonie Konkordanz ..Dissonanz Konsonanz . euphony refers rather to the overall psychoacoustic quality of a sonority isolated from any musical context.. p.Dissonanz Konsonanzempfindung Functional/Dynamic Dynamie Dinamia Consonance esthétique Harmonie . Thuille Kurth Gentili Guernsey Deutsch . and defined as a composite of all those psychoacoustic criteria capable of affecting a gradation of isolated sonorities.Diskordanz Harmoniegefühl Source Choron.
" (Cazden. p." (p. neither consonance nor dissonance can be said to exist.161) . it may explain why listeners conditioned to Western music sense a somewhat directionless indecision of harmonic moment when they attend to the heterophonic gamelan music of Bali or to the highly mannered Gagaku music of Japan. 1980." (Cazden. A chord may be dissonant to the extent that it arouses the expectation of resolving to another chord within a harmonic progression. "The cultural relativity of the systemic approach may . A passage may retain a tonic or dominant tonal center. Dissonating Tone. as may happen in some compositional styles of twentieth century art music.. Dissonant Chord Moment. Cazden says rather little about this important concept. or should the apparent resolution tendencies and outcomes be thwarted consistently. Conversely.and so reflective of cultural milieu.157) Cazden properly noted that "even a single tone may engender that urgent expectation of resolution that is the essence of dissonance. systemic habits undoubtedly engender bewilderment at the seeming irrelevance of Western harmonic relationships to the classical Karnatic music of India or to the drum ensemble music of Ghana.akustische Konsonanz musikalische Konsonanz Nüll More important than euphony in Cazden's view is what we have called expectation dissonance: "[Dissonance] identifies rather the functional moment of any sonorous event that is expected to resolve. account negatively for some cross-cultural effects. without explicitly saying so. Cazden argued that there are three levels of expectation-related dissonance: 1. For example.. Should the framework for the normative expectations of this kind not be present. 1980. 3. and dissonance arises is resolved when the dominant tonal area ultimately moves to the original tonic area. Note that Cazden refers to his theory as a "systemic approach" to consonance/dissonance. Although he invokes the psychology of expectation to explain the origins of dissonance. 2.157). For example. Cazden implies that expectations are largely learned -. A nonharmonic or non-chordal tone has a tendency to resolve within the framework of an underlying chord or harmony. p. Tonal Center Dissonance. while the moment to which it ultimately resolves is then deemed consonant.
R. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 123-168. H. 173-204.161) Other Research The principal published literature on this question includes the following: Cazden. The most consistent difference between groups of listeners is between musicians and non-musicians. Journal of Psychology. pp. The role of consonance and dissonance in music. The work of Moran & Pratt (1926) and Guernsey (1928) document the differences between musicians and non-musicians. Cazden. pp. Non-Musicians An argument can be made. (1928). Guernsey. N. pp. Cazden argues that "the raw psychoacoustic or sonorous properties of the musical signal can provide at most certain limiting natural conditions for the art of music. No.C. 3. (1980). Vol. Musical consonance and dissonance: A cultural criterion.Finally. 20. International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music. pp. 1. American Journal of Psychology. M. Guernsey showed that musicians make a distinction between consonance and pleasantness. pp. The definition of consonance and dissonance.Effect of Personality . 45-49. 9. N. Vol. Moran. 23. C. Variability of judgments of musical intervals. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. (1960). 40. N. (1926). (1945). 492-500.4. Sensory theories of musical consonance. Vol. Vol. 2. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 3-11. No.. & Pratt. Vol. Vol. that the major learned difference between groups of listeners is not to be found in differences of cultural milieu. 301-319. pp. just as there are broad natural limits and conditions for language" (p. Musicians vs. Cazden. Toward a cultural theory of consonance. Lundin. Consonance and Dissonance .W. (1947).
the same stimulus might tend to evoke one or another of these responses. Heavy Metal may be the musical equivalent of skydiving or eating highly spiced food. The second response is characteristic of an orienting response -. some individuals tend to seek out high levels of stimulation or arousal. If personality is important in such musical tastes. The carefree and rough image of the Heavy Metal fan may have concrete links to the nature of the musical sonorities. In short. the body continues to exhibit symptoms (either slight or marked) of discomfort. It is possible that responses to sensory dissonance (such as tolerance or seeking-out) may also be linked to personality. Physiologically.a response that typifies interest or openness to the stimulus (Graham. It is true that people have different responses to identical stimuli. Recall that Simpson (1994) found a neural correlate in cochlear models that accounted for 58% of the variance in dissonance perceptions. the dangers involved are known by the listener to be less than implied by the alarm-bells ringing in the sensory system. Two studies have shown that such responses correlate with personality characteristics -. or (2) decreases and then increases. those individuals exhibiting "thrillseeking" or "sensation-seeking" personal dispositions are less likely to be startled or irritated by a sound. 1979).as measured by standard personality tests. disgust. There is even some evidence supporting a genetic basis for thrill-seeking dispositions. Another. sensory dissonance may be a form of thrill-seeking. Some of these differences have been shown to be related to personality. There is room to account for further variance.In the second instance. we might predict that sky-divers would tend to favour music that has higher levels of sensory dissonance. . However. The first response is indicative of a startle response or defense reflex. or fear. Similar personality-linked differences have been observed in auditory evoked potentials -.see Zuckerman (1994). we may note that thrill-seeking in sports is known to be linked to certain aspects of personality. a listener's heart-rate typically does one of two things: (1) increases. more technical prediction arises from the above view. As a final observation. For example. Both Orlebeke and Feij (1979) and Ridgeway and Hare (1981) found that heart-rate deceleration-acceleration responses tend to occur most commonly for those listeners who score high on "sensation-seeking" personality characteristics. and more likely to be "open" or "inquisitive". For two different individuals. That is. within roughly 4 seconds of hearing an unexpected tone. We might predict that a better neural correlate would be include a neural path that encodes information related to the magnitude of possible masking.
fused. 1961. The physical pain that ensues (such as from stubbing one's toe) provides a strong incentive for an individual to be careful in situations where physical damage is possible. relaxed. Research on consonance and dissonance has tended to focus solely on the causes. We hear some sound and experience a sense of ugliness or repulsiveness. The component of dissonance that arises when pure tones are separated by roughly 40% of a critical band. tissue damage is one of the worst things that can happen to an organism. Accordingly we ask questions such as does dissonance arises from complex frequency ratios? from beating? from critical band interactions? An alternative approach is to focus on the purpose of dissonance: what is dissonance for? why do we experience some sounds as more pleasant than others? Why isn't our experience the reverse? Why don't we experience nominally dissonant sounds as pleasant and nominally consonant sounds as unpleasant? Gibsonian Interpretations of Dissonance A Gibsonian approach to dissonance allows us to reinterpret possible sources (causes) of dissonance: 1. But how is it that combinations of simple sine tones can evoke experiences of pleasantness or unpleasantness? How is it that some sounds can be experiences as sounding `bad'? Nesse (1991) draws our attention to why pain (both physical and psychological) is important from an evolutionary point of view. (Greenwood. anger. Dissonance is foremost a negative valence emotional response. . etc. We might well understand why various sounds (like the cries of someone in pain) would evoke certain emotional responses. From a survival point of view. sadness. Tonotopic Dissonance. 1965. ugly. beautiful. Kameoka & Kuriyagawa. Plomp & Levelt. Fear. Similarly. tense. 1969b). anxiety. euphonious. and other emotions serve important functions. A person who does not feel some anxiety in the presence of their boss is in danger of behaving in inappropriate and maladaptive ways. 1969a. unpleasant.Why are Some Sounds Ugly? As we have seen. diffuse. Nesse points out that psychological pain (such as feelings of sadness due to loss) are also important evolutionary adaptations. smooth. rough. there are many ways of conceptualizing dissonance: as pleasant.
If consonance and dissonance are important . 3. 1974). 6. Interval Category Dissonance.Effect on Musical Organization In outlining the various theories of consonance and dissonance above. Consonance and Dissonance . 4. 1980. Virtual Pitch Dissonance. (Wright & Bregman. The component of dissonance that arises due to rapid beating or amplitude fluctuations. p. 7. Dissonant Chord Moment where a chord may be dissonant to the extent that it arouses the expectation of resolving to another chord within a harmonic progression. "even a single tone may engender that urgent expectation of resolution that is the essence of dissonance. The component of dissonance that arises when a two pitches form an interval that is categorically ambiguous for a listener. The component of dissonance that arises when a pitch is categorically ambiguous for a listener posessing absolute pitch. where the pitch lies close to a learned categorical boundary. 5. A sonority might sound relatively consonant when it is preceded by by other sonorities that are highly dissonant. (Helmholtz. Stream Incoherence Dissonance. Temporal Dissonance. Relative Dissonance. That is. and Tonal Center Dissonance where a passage may retain a tonic or dominant tonal center. 1877).157) Cazden argued that there are three levels of expectation-related dissonance: Dissonating Tone where a nonharmonic or non-chordal tone has a tendency to resolve within the framework of an underlying chord or harmony. The component of dissonance that arises from the context of dissonant successions. The component of dissonance that arises from competing (unclear) viritual pitches. 1987). Absolute Pitch Category Dissonance. where the interval lies near a learned categorical boundary. The component of dissonance that arises due to the thwarting or delaying of a (learned) expectation. According to this view. (Terhard. That is. The component of dissonance that arises due to confusion regarding streaming.2. Expectation Dissonance. 8." (Cazden. and dissonance arises is resolved when the dominant tonal area ultimately moves to the original tonic area. we have overlooked musical practice.
we ought to be able to use music itself as a test for the various theories. then this avoidance should be reflected in the preference for certain types of musical scales. the spacing between chordal tones ought to typically result in an even spacing of spectral components with respect to critical bands. 1994) Preferred Drone Tones. then this avoidance should be reflected in the tendency to use harmonic complex tones and sonorities approximating the harmonic series. Chordal-tone Spacing. Korean music (Huron MS. Nam).g. The most consonant "drone" pitches appear to occur more frequently. Preference for Clear Pitches. and critical bands) and showed that chordal tone spacing correlates best with critical band spacing. Preferred Chord Arrangements. Huron and Sellmer (1992) compared three scales (frequency. Huron (MS) counted the number of various major chord structures in J.in music. then this avoidance should be reflected in the preference for particular drone tones -. The extant literature shows that music is indeed organized in a manner consistent with the empirical research on consonance and dissonance. Frequency of Occurrence of Harmonic Intervals. If composers endeavor to avoid sensory dissonance. E.S. We would expect that dissonant intervals (such as minor seconds and major sevenths) would be less common that consonance intervals (such as perfect octaves and major sixths). Gregorian chant (Huron MS).given a particular scale. then multitone chords ought to have wider intervals in bass region. Huron (1991) showed that there is a strong negative correlation between frequency of occurrence and degree of dissonance for concurrent diads in the music of J.S. then this avoidance should be reflected in the preference for certain chord arrangements. Evaluating the Existing Research . This correlation is independent of pitch height and so largely unaffected by critical bands. A significant negative correlation was found between the most dissonant chord arrangements and the frequency of occurrence for these arrangements. If composers endeavor to avoid virtual pitch dissonance. Bach's chorale harmonizations. If composers endeavor to avoid sensory dissonance. If composers endeavor to avoid sensory dissonance. More specifically. Preferred Musical Scales. If composers endeavor to avoid sensory dissonance. Common scales exhibit optimum sensory consonance (Huron. Hutchinson and Knopoff calculated the dissonance for various arrangements of four note major chords. then this avoidance should be reflected in the frequency of occurrence for various harmonic intervals. Bach. Aggregate dissonance for common scales is low compared with other possible scales. Some arrangements are less dissonant than others. If composers endeavor to avoid tonotopic dissonance. log frequency.
what question were they asked? 10. Was the effect of loudness measured? 8.g. Did the experiment use only tone diads? Or where triads and tetrads used? 6. How many subjects were used? What is the cultural background of the subjects? Were the subjects musicians or non-musicians? Male or female? Did the experiment use simple or complex tones? If simple tones were used. All of the important exposure or learning-based theories (such as Expectation Dissonance. and Temporal Dissonance) need extensive testing on non-Western listeners. If a wide frequency range was used. Over the past century or so. is the spectral content well described? Did the experiment use complex non-harmonic tones? 5. the phenomenon of consonance and dissonance has developed a sufficient complexity that the only way forward is through careful experimentation. How is the data presented? Do we see means only? Median values? Any indication of the data spread or variance? Work Remaining Further work on the psychoacoustics and physiology of dissonance is needed. Historically. 4. and Absolute Pitch Category Dissonance) need to demonstrate the effect of different cultures. a number of experiments have been carried out regarding consonance and dissonance. All of the important psychoacoustic theories (such as Tonotopic Dissonance. In making sense of these experiments. Interval Category Dissonance. . Difference Tones. How did the subjects rate the stimuli? That is. we might consider asking the following questions: 1.Although anecdotal and case-based research can provide an important source of hypotheses. New research programs are needed that begin from the premise that more than one theory is correct. was there any attempt to compensation for threshold changes? 9. were they likely to have low distortion? If complex tones were used. Here we will focus on evaluating different experiments. we need to investigate a possible duplex perception of dissonance where both tonotopic and temporal (e. Were the subjects' responses examined for reliability? Were test/retest correlations calculated? 11. beating) factors contribute to dissonance. 3. 2. Did the stimuli span a wide frequency range? 7. there has been a strong tendency for researcher's to accept only a single theory regarding consonance/dissonance. For example.
In Figure 9 of Plomp & Levelt's 1964 article. the size of the critical band proposed by Zwicker et al is now considered excessively large -. More in-depth studies are required of scales in different cultures so that proper comparisons with theory can be made. A better estimate of the size of critical bands is given in Moore & Glasberg (1983). We should be able to test whether the preferred musical timbres coincide with particular theoretical predictions. Similarly. In this case.especially in the bass region. Greenwood (1961) plotted data from Mayer (1894) against the estimated size of the critical band. Flottorp & Stevens (1957). Relationship to personality. This raises questions of the purity of the purported pure tones. to carry out some additional . Specifically. In addition. Plomp & Levelt used an estimate of the critical bandwidth given by Zwicker. R. Mayer had collected data where listeners were asked to judge the smallest consonant interval between two pure tones. Mayer used tuning forks to generate his stimuli. However. etc. There are some discrepancies evident in both the higher and lower frequency ranges. they were asked to judge the minimum frequency difference where no dissonance was perceived. Working out the effect of streaming on dissonance (Wright/Bregman hypothesis). Mayer's lowest tuning fork had a frequency of 256 Hz. Mayer's 1894 data is again plotted against the critical bandwidth. There are a number of questions arising from Mayer's 1894 data. most theories predict several "good" scales as optimum for consonant music. That is. theories should be able to predict the kinds of timbres that are commonly used in music. However. we should be able to test whether instrument combinations or patterns of orchestration coincide with particular theoretical predictions. Consonance and Dissonance . Since timbre is known to affect consonance/dissonance. it is now thought that Greenwood's original 1961 estimate of the critical bandwidth is slightly better than even Moore and Glasberg's ERB estimates. König.Tonotopic Theory Greenwood (1961) was the first to observe a relationship between critical bandwidth and judgements of consonance/dissonance. Greenwood pointed out that the dissonance is judged as absent when the distance between pure tones is roughly the size of a critical bandwidth. Mayer asked a friend. Contrary to popular opinion.
Sandig (1939) found that intervals formed by playing each tone to separate ears results in a more "neutral" sounding interval. Their goal was to .) published two papers -.1978. then one would predict that intervals formed by pitches presented to alternate ears would evoke no dissonance. If the tonotopic theory of sensory dissonance is correct. Hutchinson and Knopoff William Hutchinson and Leon Knopoff (UCLA Music Dept. Plomp and Steeneken reported on a modern replication of Mayer's (1894) measures. subjects were asked to adjust the higher tone as close as possible to the fixed tone so that "the two tones did not interfere and could be heard separately." The graph below plots the median values against Greenwood's equation estimating the width of critical bands. In one condition. 1979 on consonance and dissonance.measures at low frequencies. They collected data from 20 listeners. Subjects adjusted the frequency of the higher of two sine-wave oscillators. Mayer's data was collected from 12 subjects. In 1968. whereas König's data was collected from a single subject.
These authors reject a variety of other descriptions of consonance and dissonance and reaffirm that the absence of rapid beating is the physical correlate of Western common practice consonance.S. Instead. this fraction is smaller for high mean frequencies and larger for lower mean frequencies. "As a matter of computational convenience. "By methods of psychological testing." (1978.72 (f)^0.generate numerical tables estimating the perceived dissonance for typical tone pairs (1978) and triads (1979).7) Fortunately. p.65 (compare with Greenwood) They generate dissonance values for various dyads using their equation. we have "fudged" the frequencies of the overtones of any fundamental to the well-tempered scale. and from Mayer. and measured by Zwicker.1) They misinterpret Plomp and Levelt as follows: "Of the many extensions of Helmholtz's research. they avoid the Zwicker CBW curve and use the data from Cross and Goodwin.4-5) In calculating the dissonance for diads and triads. They use complex tones consisting of 10 equallytempered harmonics. The critical band was posited by S. perhaps the most recent and comprehensive is that of Plomp and Levelt (1965)." (1978. within which one hears dissonances. pp. Another misunderstanding arises with respect to the origin of the critical band. . They regard their own work as "an extension of the HelmholtzPlomp and Levelt model of beating as the cause of dissonance. Hutchinson and Knopoff begin with a fundamental misconception of Plomp and Levelt. The first thing to note about Hutchinson and Knopoff is that they were completely unaware of the work of Kameoka and Kuriyagawa (1969a. p. Stevens. Plomp and Levelt have determined that the critical bandwidth. They probably didn't discover this because their equations normalize the dissonance values. Hutchinson and Knopoff miss an opportunity to note that virtually all triads are more dissonant than virtually all diads." (1978.b). p. is not a constant fraction of the mean frequency of the two tones.2) There is nothing in the Plomp and Levelt approach that takes into account beating." (1978. They fit their own curve to the CBW as follows: CBW = 1.
the squared distance measure used by Simpson amounts to a measure of tonotopic spread. Simpson (1994) Further evidence in support of the tonotopic theory of sensory dissonance is found in the work of Jasba Simpson (1994). In general. Into these models. root position. the authors turn their attention to triads. Simpson's complete thesis is available online. Simpson input the stimuli used in five perceptual experiments where listeners judged the degree of consonance or dissonance.In Hutchinson and Knopoff (1979). and second inversion. the acoustic rank ordering from the most consonant to the most dissonant for a major triad is: second inversion. root position and firt inversion. p. for the minor triad it is: first inversion." (1979. wider intervals between the lowest notes of a chord will generate less sensory dissonance.) "All other things being equal. (Terhardt might have an explanation for why the 2nd inversion chord sounds less "good". Simpson made use of contemporary computer models of the operation of the cochlea. The second inversion chord is slightly more consonant than the root position chord.in keeping with other extant experimental literature (Sandig. Simpson found that the squared distance of the maximums and minimums from the mean of the maximum and minimums accounted for 58% of the variance in the stimuli used in the five experiments. 1939). An implementation of the Kameoka and Kuriyagawa method for estimating sensory dissonance for any arbitrary spectrum is available. Simpson concluded that his findings suggest that dissonance cues are available at the periphery of the auditory system -. They show that a first inversion chord is more dissonant than a root position chord (having the same average pitch). In effect. Simpson then explored the outputs of the cochlear models to determine whether there were any neurophysiological responses that correlated with the consonance/dissonance judgments.9) Notice that these orderings are simply a consequence of larger critical bandwidths for lower frequencies. Relating Tuning and Timbre .
Sethares This is the full text of the article (more or less) as it first appeared in Experimental Musical Instruments. The results of such calculations agree well with the normal (musical) notion of consonance when applied to harmonic timbres. though. I remember when I first played in 16 tone. I had to audition hundreds of sounds before I found a few good timbres. This suggests a way to design new musical instruments with unusual timbres that can play consonantly in unusual scales. James Forrest has recently created a Java applet for interactive exploration of dissonance curves. These judgements are averaged into a "consonance curve" which is used to calculate the consonance of complex timbres. This article explains why this happens. how can consonant timbres be chosen? The ability to answer such questions will likely impact the way we design new musical instruments. for instance. The principle answers two complementary questions. then you've probably noticed that certain timbres (or tones) sound good in some scales and not in others. . When I tried to play in 10 tone. none of the timbres in my synthesizers sounded good. what scale should it be played in? Given a scale. The principle of local consonance describes a relationship between the timbre of a sound and a tuning (or scale) in which the timbre will sound most consonant. Given a timbre. because many of the standard timbres in synthesizers sound fine in these tunings. "Clearly the timbre of an instrument strongly affects what tuning and scale sound best on that instrument" W. Carlos Introduction If you've ever attempted to play music in weird tunings (where "weird" means anything other than 12 tone equal temperament). and it contains links to computer programs that will make it easy for you to draw dissonance curves yourself. It was the catalyst for much of the work that resulted in Tuning Timbre Spectrum Scale. 17 and 19 tone equal temperament are easy to play in. and shows how to design timbres and scales that complement each other. The presentation begins in the next section with an overview of the work of several acousticians.by William A. who have shown that people consistently judge the consonance of intervals composed of pure sine waves.
slow beats are percieved as a pleasant vibrato while fast beats tend to be rough and annoying. In On the Sensations of Tones. At unison. This article is a less technical presentation of my paper "Local Consonance and the Relationship Between Timbre and Scale. Dissonance. this measure of consonance can also be applied to other (nonharmonic) timbres. FM timbres with noninteger carrier to modulation ratios). Several concrete examples follow. the consonance increased up towards. fifths and fourths are highly consonant while seconds and sevenths are relatively dissonant. The beating becomes slower as the two tones move closer together. Plomp and Levelt (full references are at the end) examined consonance experimentally. Despite considerable variability among the responses. More recently.Thus unisons. If two tones are sounded at almost the same frequency. Of course. octaves. but never quite reached the consonance of the unison. and the succeeding sections show how to design timbres and scales. including finding scales for nonharmonic timbres (the natural resonances of a uniform beam. and completely disappears when the frequencies are identical. it was judged less and less consonant until at some point a minimum was reached. then a distinct beating occurs that is due to interference between the two tones (piano tuners use this effect regularly). by generating pairs of sine waves and asking volunteers to rate them in terms of their relative consonance. according to Helmholtz. Plomp and Levelt called this tonal consonance." which contains the mathematical details. "stretched" and "compressed" timbres. Recalling that any timbre can be decomposed into sine wave components. Typically. and finding timbres for equal tempered scales. . Consonance. the consonance was maximum. After this. a consonant interval has little or no musical tension or tendency to change. is the absence of such dissonant beats. is the degree to which an interval sounds unpleasant or rough. there was a simple and clear trend. Helmholtz theorized that dissonance between two tones is caused by the rapid beating of various sine wave components. to distinguish it from musical consonance and from Helmholtz' beat theory. dissonant intervals generally feel tense and unresolved. As the interval increased. What Exactly is Consonance? The standard musicological definition (see your favorite dictionary) is that a musical interval is consonant if it sounds pleasant or restful. Helmholtz offers a physiological explanation for consonance that is based on the phenomenon of beats. on the other hand.
Figure 2: The standard harmonic timbre used to generate the dissonance curve offigure 3. fifth.The above figure shows an averaged version of the dissonance curve (which is simply the consonance curve flipped upside-down) in which dissonance begins at zero (at an "interval" of a unison) increases rapidly to a maximum. Carrying out this calculation for a range of intervals leads to the dissonance curve. . the dissonance curve formed by the timbre of figure 2 is shown below in figure 3. To explain perceptions of musical intervals.88. If this timbre is sounded at various intervals. and a series of sine wave partials that occur at integer multiples of the fundamental. Figure 2 depicts one such timbre. and then falls back towards zero. For example. Amplitudes fall at a rate of 0.The frequency axis is normalized so that the root frequency is unity. The most surprising feature of this curve is that the musically consonant intervals are undistinguished . the dissonance of the intervals can be calculated by adding up all of the dissonances between all pairs of partials.there is no dip in the curve at the fourth. Plomp and Levelt note that most traditional musical tones have a spectrum consisting of a root or fundamental frequency. or even the octave.
The local minima of this curve occur at values which are good candidates for notes of a scale. 2:1. Thus an argument based on tonal consonance is consistent with the use of just intonation (scales based on intervals with simple integer ratios). and the minor third.e. This notion of relatedness of scales and timbres suggests two interesting avenues of investigation. the major sixth. 3:2. the major third. they occur at the "nearby" simple ratios 1:1. Imagine being in the process of creating a new instrument with an unusual (i. Looking at the data more closely shows that the minima do not occur at exactly the scale steps of the 12 tone equal tempered scale. at least for harmonic timbres. Next is the fifth. Rather. maximum consonance).Observe that this curve contains major dips at many of the intervals of the 12 tone equal tempered scale. since they are local points of minimum dissonance (i. it is straightforward to draw the dissonance curve generated by T. Thus the ear perceives intervals which occur at points of local minima in the dissonance curve as relatively consonant. non-harmonic) tonal quality.. which are exactly the locations of notes in the "justly intoned" scales (see Wilkinson). This might be useful to the experimental musician. 4:3. How should the instrument be tuned? To what scale should the finger holes . and 5:3 respectively. These agree with standard musical usage and experience.e. This observation forms the basis of the principle of local consonance: A timbre and a scale are said to be related if the timbre generates a dissonance curve whose local minima occur at scale positions. 5:4. The most consonant interval is the unison. followed closely by the octave. Perhaps the most striking aspect of figure 3 is that most of the scale steps of the major scale are roughly coincident with local minima of the dissonance curve. followed by the fourth. Given an arbitrary timbre T (perhaps one whose spectrum does not consist of a standard harmonic series).
Harmonic interest arises from a complex interplay of dissonance (restlessness) and consonance (rest). Those familiar with MATLAB. It would be naive to suggest that truly musical properties can be measured as a simple tonal consonance. This is useful to musicians and composers who wish to play in nonstandard scales such as 10 tone equal temperament.. The program works by encapsulating the PlompLevelt consonance curve into a mathematical function that consists of a sum of exponentials. consonance is not the whole story. thus minimizing the beats (or roughness) of the sound. a harmonic progression that was uniformly consonant would likely be boring. which is designed to be played with timbres containing only odd partials. and Mathews and Pierce explored their potential musical uses. Alternatively. Recently." Slaymaker investigated timbres with stretched (and compressed) partials. Mathews and Pierce examined a scale with steps based on the thirteenth root of three. but we provide a systematic technique that can be used to find scales for a given timbre. This is similar to the present approach. given a desired scale (perhaps one which divides the octave into n equal pieces. and the alpha loop runs through all the intervals of . Pierce's brief note reported synthesizing a timbre designed specifically to be played in an 8 tone equal tempered scale.. The i and j loops calculate the dissonance of the timbre at a particular interval alpha. there are timbres which will generate a dissonance curve with local minima at precisely the scale degrees. Pierce concludes.(or frets. by providing music with tones having accurately specified but nonharmonic partials. the digital computer can release music from the tyranny of 12 tones without throwing consonance overboard. Perhaps the most important use of the principle of local consonance is to provide guidelines for exploring new tonalities and tunings. Even in the realm of harmony (and ignoring musically essential aspects such as melody and rhythmn). As the opening quote indicates. It's an ideal job for a computer. Carlos investigated scales for nonharmonic timbres by overlaying their spectra and searching for intervals in which partials coincide. rather than the standard twelfth root of two. Indeed. How to Calculate Dissonance Curves If you're thinking that there must be a lot of calculations necessary to draw dissonance curves. you're right. or to find timbres for a given scale. this is not the first time that the relationship between timbre and scale has been explored. ". or whatever) be tuned? The principle of local consonance answers this question in a concrete way. or one which is not based on the octave). BASIC or related computer languages may wish to look at the program.
generate your own). amp(2)=10. if the partials are widely separated then there are two local minima. as in 4(b). of course. The steep minimum occurs at an interval of 1.15*500 shows that the point of local consonance occurs at an interval of 1. the dissonance curve can have three different contours: if the partials are very close together then there are no points of local consonance. Fortunately. Set n=2 and freq(1)=500. To change the start and end points of the intervals. there are some general patterns in the ways that dissonance curves can look. To make the intervals further apart. Setting freq(2)=1. All the dissonance values are stored in the vector diss. Don't change dstar or any of the variables with numbers. As shown in figure 4.interest. you can reproduce these curves (or. increase inc. Using the program. with two points of local consonance. Finally.15.86. Running the program as is generates the dissonance data of figure 3 for the timbre of figure 2. Notice that the second minimum is shallow. . freq(2)=505. and is a result of the large distance between the partials of the timbre. Let's examine a simple timbre with just two partials. The first few lines set up the frequencies and amplitudes of the timbre. if they are in between then there is just one. This gives figure 4(a). where the partials are too close to allow a point of local consonance. amp(1)=10. The variable n must be equal to the number of frequencies in the timbre. setting freq(2)=1.86*500 gives 4(c). use startint and endint.
The fourth property is particularly interesting because it says that points of local consonance tend to occur at intervals which are simply defined by the partials of the timbre. for instance.86 respectively. The musically useful information is usually contained in intervals between 1/m and m for some small m. Suppose that the timbre F has n partials located at frequencies (f1. . local minima are found at a=1. . The first few are very rough. sounds very dissonant and unoctavelike. the major 7th plays the role normally occupied by the octave. (A major 7th is an interval of 1. Up to half of the local minima are the shallow type of figure 4(c). consists exclusively of local minima caused by coinciding partials. for instance. Property 3: The dissonance curve generated by F has at most 2n(n-1) local minima which are located symmetrically (on a logarithmic scale) so that half occur for intervals between 0 and 1. try an organ or flute sample). Then the dissonance rises and plummets quickly.86. at least in terms of consonance. (If using a sample based machine without such a humble waveform. Figure 3. Thus. fn). Properties of Dissonance Curves Here are some general properties of dissonance curves. and one at a major seventh above f. First. f2. which is the ratio between the two partials.15 and a=1. In figure 3. All other minima are local. find a tone that is as close to a sine wave as possible. Property 1: The unison is the global minimum (the lowest possible value of the dissonance curve). but not unpleasant. at an interval of 2. the dissonance must approach a value that is no more than the intrinsic dissonance of the timbre. The next few are somewhat aharmonic.. The shallow minima tend to vanish for timbres with more than a few partials. . This is something you can hear for yourself.. Property 4: Up to half of the local minima occur at intervals a for which a=fi/fj where fi and fj are arbitrary partials of F. one at frequency f. and half occur for intervals between 1 and infinity. Assign two tones to each keypress.86. The octave. In figures 4(b) and 4(c). Listen to the consonance of the various intervals in this timbre. just as in 4(c)). for instance. dissonance curves usually have fewer than 2n(n-1) local minima. For this timbre. at the interval of 1. Property 2: As the interval grows larger.You can listen to figure 4 with a synthesizer or tone generator.
122 1. intervals in the just major scale. Notes of the equal tempered musical scale compared to minima of the dissonance curve for a 9 partial harmonic timbre.059 1..0 1:1 16:15 1. min 3) 1. considerably fewer than the theoretical maximum of 84.14 (8:7 = sept.2f. and explains various consonance related phenomena in terms of the principle of local consonance. . Since the partials are at integer multiples of f. 2f. the timbre (f. The principle of local consonance says that the most appropriate scale tones for harmonic timbres are located at such a. Harmonic Timbres The points of local consonance for the harmonic timbre with partials at (f. For instance.3f) over the range 0<a<6 exhibits all 12 possible minima.. and indeed. The following table compares intervals in the 12-tet scale. all the points of local consonance of figure 3 occur at such values. . It is possible to achieve the bound. The results of the previous section explain this elegantly.189 Just Minima of Dissonance Curve Intervals 1. a=n/m for integers n and m between 1 and 7. 7f ) are located at simple integer ratios. 2) 1. maj. 3 unison just semitone just whole tone 9:8 .0 1. and compared to the Just Intonation major scale from Wilkinson Note Name C C# D D# 12-tet Interval 1. From Timbre to Scale This section constructs examples of scales appropriate for a variety of timbres. and minima of a dissonance curve drawn for a timbre with nine harmonic partials.17 (7:6 = sept.2 (6:5) 6:5 just min. Candidate points of local consonance are at intervals a for which fi = a fj.there are only 7 local minima within the octave of interest.
The most striking aspect of compressed and stretched timbres is the lack of a real octave. Stretched and Compressed Timbres Slaymaker and Mathews and Pierce have investigated timbres with partials at fj = f Alog( j) where the log is taken base 2.8 (9:5 = large just maj. 2.498 1." "pseudo-fourths. the frequencies of the timbre are compressed.587 1. this is simply a harmonic timbre.414 1. This can be seen clearly from the dissonance curves. 7 just maj.87.33 (4:3) 1.2 respectively. the frequency ratio A plays the role of the octave. 6 just maj. since fj = f 2log(j)= jf. In each case.0. each curve has a similar contour. and the 12 tone equal tuning can be viewed as an acceptable compromise between the consonance based desire to play in justly intoned scales and the practicalities of instrument standardization.4 (7:5 = sept. "Pseudo-fifths.0 1. When A<2. while when A>2.0 5:4 4:3 45:32 3:2 8:5 5:3 16:9 15:8 2:1 just maj.5 (3:2) 1.25 (5:4) 1.6 (8:5) 1. 7) 2.682 1. 6 just min. the partials are stretched. which Mathews and Pierce call the pseudo octave. More importantly.888 2." and "pseudo-thirds" are readily discernable. tritone) 1. when played in compressed and stretched scale .782 1. 3 just perfect 4 just tritone perfect 5 just min. Real octaves sound dissonant and unresolved when A is different from 2 while the pseudo octaves are highly consonant. this provides a psychoacoustic basis for justly intonated scales.1. Points of local consonance occur at (or near) the twelve equal steps of the pseudo octaves. In terms of tonal consonance. This suggests that much of music theory and practice can be transferred to to compressed and stretched timbres.67 (5:3) 1. min.E F F# G G# A A# B C 1. 7 octave In a sense. 2. When A=2.26 1. which are plotted in the four panels of the figure for A=1. the ear is fairly insensitive to small deviations in frequency. 7) 1.335 1. and 2.75 (7:4 = sept.
8. 18.645f. Two octaves of the dissonance curve for this timbre are shown below.758f. The curve has numerous minima which are spaced unevenly at the frequencies shown.A Xylophone Tuning It is well known that xylophones. 5. . 24. in which it will sound most consonant. defined by the timbre of the xylophone. and other instruments which consist of beams with free ends. 13.406f.35f. The principle of local consonance suggests that there is a natural scale. have partials which are not harmonically related.82f . The first seven frequencies of an ideal beam which is free to vibrate at both ends are given by Fletcher and Rossing as f.936f. 2.
Three octaves of the dissonance curve for this FM timbre are plotted below. which can be read directly from the figure.4 and modulating index I=2. Tuning for FM Timbres One common method of sound synthesis is frequency modulation (FM) (see Chowning). For example.This suggests that these would be the most natural sounding tuning for a xylophone. consider a simple FM tone with carrier to modulator ratio c:m of 1:1. Noninteger ratios of the carrier and modulating frequencies give nonharmonic timbres that are typically relegated to percussive or bell patches because they sound dissonant when played in traditional 12 tone harmonies. The program also maps the sounds onto your computer keyboard so that they are easy to play. at least in terms of consonance. The frequencies and amplitudes of the resulting timbre are given in the following figure. A Java applet by James Forrest allows immediate and hands-on exploration of FM timbres and their dissonance curves. . The principle of local consonance suggests that such sounds can be played more harmoniously in scales which are determined by the timbres themselves. The appropriate scale notes for this timbre occur at the minima of the dissonance curve.
am-1. For certain classes of scales (such as the m-tone equal tempered scales) the properties of the dissonance curve can be exploited to solve the problem efficiently. vn) to minimize the sum of the dissonances over the m-1 intervals. v2. fn) and volumes (or amplitudes) (v1. . . Zero dissonance can be achieved by setting all the amplitudes to zero.. this can lead to "trivial" timbres in two ways.From Scale to Timbre The optimal scale for a given timbre is found simply by locating the local minima of the dissonance curve.. . some constraints are necessary: Constraint 1: Don't allow the amplitudes to change. Timbre Selection as an Optimization Problem Any set of m scale tones specifies a set of m-1 intervals a1. There is no single "best" timbre for a given scale. .. But it is often possible to find "locally best" timbres which can be specified as the solution to a certain optimization problem. . or by allowing the ai to become arbitrarily large (recall property 2). The naive approach to the problem of timbre selection is to chose a set of n partials (f1. a2. The complementary problem of finding an optimal timbre for a given scale is not as simple. f2. .. Constraint 2: Force all frequencies to lie in a predetermined region.. To avoid such trivial solutions. . Unfortunately..
For example. and the GA was allowed to search for the most fit timbre.9. Fortunately. f2. the algorithm tends to converge. and 2. . where the w1 and w2 are weighting factors. we have found that weightings of about w1/w2 = 1000/1 seem to give reasonable results. and the most fit timbre is a good candidate for the minimizer of C. Timbres for an Arbitrary Scale As an example of the application of the genetic algorithm to the timbre selection problem. 7. Indeed. .5. Genes for the timbre selection problem are formed by concatenating binary representations of the fi." (see Kirkpatrick) or the "genetic algorithm" (see Goldberg). f2. the GA converges near harmonic timbres quite often.The revised (constrained) optimization is then: With the amplitudes fixed. 1.8125. 1. As generations pass. the GA tends to return timbres which are well matched to the desired scale in the sense that scale steps tend to occur at points of local consonance and the total dissonance at scale steps is low. . such problems can be solved adequitely (though not necessarily optimally) using a variety of "random search" methods such as "simulated annealing. The GA requires that the problem be coded in a finite string called the "gene" and that a "fitness" function be defined. The frequencies were coded as 8 bit binary numbers with 4 bits for the integer part and 4 bits for the fractional part. 5. This is a good indication that the algorithm is functioning and that the free parameters have been chosen sensibly. A set of amplitudes were chosen as 10. 1. select a set of n frequencies (f1. 5.8. fn) lying in the range of interest so as to minimize the cost C = w1 ( sum of dissonances ) + w2 ( number of points ) over the m-1 intervals of local minima. 4. The most fit are combined (via a "mating" procedure) into "child timbres" for the next generation. a desired scale was chosen with scale steps at 1.6.. The GA searches n-dimensional space measuring the fitness of timbres..1875. .0. The fitness function of the gene (f1. fn) is measured as the value of the cost J above. Minimizing the cost C is a n-dimensional optimization problem with a highly complex error surface.. when the 12 tone equal tempered scale is specified. and timbres are judged "more fit" if the cost C is lower. The best three timbres out of 10 trial runs of the algorithm were .7.3125.8..2. The genetic algorithm (GA) seems to work well. 8. 1. Minimizing this cost C tends to place the scale steps at local minima as well as to minimize the value of the dissonance curve. 6. Experimentally. 4.
87f) (f. Consider timbres for which successive partials are ratios of powers of b. Induced timbres are good candidate solutions to the optimization problem.6f) The dissonance curve of the best timbre is shown below. Such a timbre is said to be induced by the m-tone equal tempered scale.(f. 1. Each partial of such a timbre.87f. Since the ratio between any pair of partials in an induced timbre is bk for some integer k.3f. when transposed into the same octave as the fundamental. Such timbres tend to minimize the cost C.52f. 9. 10. 12. such as the m-tone equal tempered scales. 7.39f. Clearly.9f) (f. these timbres are related to the specified scale. Instead of searching over all . thus bypassing the need to run an optimization program. 3. For example. 6. m-tone equal temperament has a ratio of b=mth root of 2 between successive scale steps. Recall from property 4 that points of local consonance tend to be located at intervals a for which fi = a fj where fi and fj are partials of the timbre F. since points of local consonance occur precisely at the scale steps. This insight can be exploited in two ways. it can be used to reduce the search space of the optimization routine. 10. 4.56f. 4. 7.8f. 9.09f.37f. harmonic timbres are induced timbres for the justly intoned scale. 14. properties of the dissonance curve can be exploited to quickly and easily design timbres. First. 3. 11.4f.81f. lies on a note of the scale.4f. the dissonance curve will tend to have points of local consonance at such ratios: these ratios occur precisely at steps of the scale. 1.8f. Recall that the ratio between successive scale steps in 12 tone equal temperament is the twelfth root of 2 (about 1.9275f.0595). 7.3f. Similarly.99f.5f. Timbres for Equal Temperaments For certain scales. 14f. 2. 6. 3.9f.
10-tone is often considered one of the worst temperaments for harmonic music. b25 f . consider the problem of designing timbres to be played in 10 tone equal temperament. b17 f . b28 f . the same tones sound quite dissonant when played in a standard . b20 f . Here are three timbres induced by the 10 tone equal tempered scale. implying that harmonic timbres are very dissonant. b7 f . Let b = the 10th root of 2. b21 f . b10 f . Not surprisingly. b30 f ) The dissonance curves of these timbres are They really are consonant when played on a 10 tone equal tempered scale. since the steps of the ten tone scale are distinct from the (small) integer ratios. b37 f ) (f. b13 f . b7 f . b28 f . (f. b24 f . the search need only be done over induced timbres. the timbre selection problem for equal tempered scales can be solved by careful choice of induced timbres. As an example. The principle of local consonance asserts that these intervals will become more consonant if played with correctly designed timbres. b23 f . b16 f . More straightforwardly. b30 f ) (f. b17 f . b28 f .frequencies in a bounded region.
tone equal tempered tuning can be maximized by moving the partials away from the harmonic series to a series based on b = the twelfth root of 2. and then transformed back into a useable waveform. This is the key idea behind spectral mappings. In the figure above. for example around one third. An easier approach is to synthesize the timbres. each with instruments designed with a particular timbre and played in the related tuning. the trick is to find a variable thickness string that will vibrate with partials at the desired frequencies. New Instruments. The principle of local consonance shows how to imagine a number of differently tuned orchestras. The frequencies are changed in a systematic way that maps the partials into the specified timbre. Is it always possible to design acoustic instruments that will have a given timbre? How about brasses? Fletcher and Rossing proclaim that "If the flaring part of the horn extends over a reasonable fraction of the total length. Exactly how to engineer acoustic instruments with specified timbres is an interesting issue. Bells can be tuned by changing the shape and thickness of the walls. The partials of a drumhead can be tuned by weighting or layering sections of the drumhead. then there is still enough geometrical flexibility to allow the frequencies of all modes to be adjusted to essentially any value desired." With stringed instruments. The result is a nonharmonic timbre with much of the character of the original instrument. The partials of reed instruments can be manipulated by the contour of the bore as well as the shape and size of the tone holes. Analogous arguments suggest that the consonance of 12. Anyone? Any arbitrary timbre (set of frequencies and amplitudes) can be realized with the aid of a computer. digital or acoustic. How about a band of instruments tuned to stretched or compressed tunings? An orchestra optimized for seven or ten tone equal temperaments? A wind instrument with the timbre of a drum? A trumpet with the harmonic structure of a steel beam? .12 tone scale. a harmonic waveform (which may be a sample of an acoustic instrument) is transformed into its constituent frequencies.
and a way to find consonant timbres given a specified scale. The advent of inexpensive musical synthesizers capable of realizing arbitrary sounds allows exploration of nonharmonic acoustic spaces. The computational techniques of this paper allow specification of timbres and tunings for such instruments. The justly intoned scales can similarly be viewed as a consequence of the harmonic timbres of musical instruments. Two complementary computational techniques were proposed: a way to find consonant scales given a specified timbre.The consonance curve shows how to properly tune the instrument. The principle of local consonance provides guidelines on how to sensibly relate tuning and timbre. Using a computer to generate the timbres gives the ability to audition the design before building. One implication is that the musical notion of consonance of intervals such as the octave and fifth can be viewed as a result of the timbre of the instruments we typically use. More ambitiously. . saving time in the design and specification of nontraditional instruments. Conclusions The principle of local consonance shows how to relate timbres and tunings. it is easy to imagine new nonharmonic instruments capable of playing consonant music.
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