Characteristic dissonance

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Characteristic dissonance is a term from the theory of harmony according to Hugo Riemann , the so-called function theory . Textbooks that represent this theory in a simplified form include:


Riemann himself regards the "characteristic dissonances" as "tones that are each time taken from the other dominant":

  • The major upper dominant receives the root note of the lower dominant (in C major: ghd | f ; in A minor: e g sharp b | d ); see note example a
  • The major subdominant receives the fifth of the upper dominant (in C major: fac | d ); see note example b
  • The minor subdominant receives the prime of the molar major dominant or the fifth of the major major dominant (in A minor: h | dfa ; in C major: d | f as c ); see note example c or d
  • The molar superior dominant receives the root of the minor subdominant (in A minor: d | egh ); see note example e

  \ new Staff {\ time 3/1 \ override Staff.TimeSignature.transparent = ## t \ relative c '{<\ tweak color #red fa c> 1_ "S" ^ "a)" <c' eg> _ " T "<g 'bd \ tweak color #red f> _" D "\ bar" || "  <f, ac \ tweak color #red d> _ "S" ^ "b)" <c 'e g> _ "T" <g' b \ tweak color #red d> _ "D" \ bar "||"  \ time 4/1 <d, fa \ tweak color #red b> _ "° S" ^ "c)" <a 'ce> _ "° T" <e' g \ tweak color #red b> _ "° D "<e gis \ tweak color #red b> _" D + "\ bar" || "  \ time 3/1 <f, as c \ tweak color #red d> _ "° S" ^ "d)" <c 'eg> _ "T" <g' b \ tweak color #red d> _ "D "\ bar" || "  <\ tweak color #red d, fa> _ "° S" ^ "e)" <a 'ce> _ "° T" <e' gb \ tweak color #red d> _ "° D" \ bar "| | "  }}

It should be noted that in Riemann's strictly dualistic theory, the minor triad ("lower tone") is a reflection of the major triad ("upper tone"). The minor triad ace has the "prime" e , the third c and the "subquint" a . The “subquint” is still the “keynote”.


The functional-theoretical interpretation of the following chord progression as S 5 6 –D with the sixth d as the "characteristic dissonance" of the subdominant contradicts the contrapuntal view, according to which it is not this sixth but the fifth that is a dissonance, more precisely: a syncopation dissonance (see also: Sixte ajoutée ):

\ new PianoStaff << <<% because of figured bass \ new Staff << \ set Score.tempoHideNote = ## t \ tempo 4 = 160 \ override Staff.TimeSignature.transparent = ## t << \ new Voice = "first" \ relative c '' {\ voiceOne s2 c ~ cb \ bar "||"  } \ new Voice = "second" \ relative c '{\ voiceTwo s1 <d a'> 2 <dg>} >> >> \ new Staff << \ override Staff.TimeSignature.transparent = ## t \ clef "bass "\ relative c {s1 f2 g} >> >> \ new FiguredBass {\ figuremode {<_> 1 <6 5>}} >>% because of figured bass


In jazz one encounters a multitude of additional characteristic dissonances, which are often ambiguous, that is, cannot always be assigned to a single function. It is no longer just the harmonious function that is characterized, but also a style or personal style.

Each tone of the chromatic scale can be added to a triad. (The common chord names are added in brackets. For variants see: Chord symbol .)

The major seventh (C maj7 ) occurs in tonic and subdominant sounds. The sixte ajoutée (C 6 ) loses its subdominant character (or gives tonic triads a subdominant coloring). A ninth or second (large or small) (C add9 / C −9 ) can be used in almost all sounds.

Major ninth and sixth ajoutée (C 6/9 ) complement the major triad to the pentatonic scale .

The minor seventh (C 7 ) is not reserved for the dominant, but can (for example in the blues ) also be tonic or subdominant dissonance. In this case it is perceived as part of the overtone spectrum and voiced accordingly (see Blue note ).

The excessive ninth (C +9 ) tones more dominant sounds. It can, however, be confused enharmonically as a minor third , which sounds at the same time as the major third, enriching the tonic triad. This often simulates the intonation fluctuations in the blues, which are impossible on keyboard instruments .

The minor ninth (C −9 ) is also a more common extension of the dominant, as it forms the minor sixth to the fifth of the tonic chord and thus represents an additional leading tone.

The perfect fourth (C sus4 or C 11 ) can be understood as a sounding lead to the third of the tonic triad, or (combined with the sixth ajoutée) result in a mixed sound between tonic and subdominant or between dominant and tonic (e.g. as C 13 ). The excessive fourth (C +11 ) acts with a major third as an unresolved lead to the fifth, with a minor third it is part of the diminished triad (C dim )

A similarly harsh dissonance is the minor (minor) sixth (C −6 ) as a "lead" to the fifth.

The concept of dissonance is blurred here insofar as these additional tones usually do not contribute to the need for resolution, but also color very stable, calm sounds. The possible or meaningful dissonances in each case result from the musical scale (or scale) on which the piece or section is based, i.e. the tonal center .

For the extension of triads see also: Theory of stages

Examples in C major

(The sound examples are MIDI files, each about 0.2 kB.
Except for the example for the subdominant, all examples are broken down into the tonic so that an impression of the chord function can be created. It is advisable to listen to the Sound examples to hear the complete cadence in C major to "calibrate" the ear: Sound example: cadence in C )
  • Subdominant: fac
    sound sample
    • Subdominant with sixth: facd (d is the only common tone with the dominant ghd)
      Sound sample

Sources and literature

  • Christoph Hempel: Harmony. The big practice book . Mainz: Schott 2014, ISBN 978-3-7957-8730-1 , pp. 266-267.
  • Wilhelm Maler : Contribution to the major minor harmony theory 14th edition, Munich: Leuckart 1987.
  • Hugo Riemann: Simplified harmony theory or the theory of the tonal functions of chords . 1893, 2nd edition 1903, London: Augener ( online) .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Maler 1987, vol. 1, p. 11: "Since every major triad is given a D function by the small seventh, it is called 'characteristic dissonance'"; P. 14: "Since every major or minor triad is given an S function by the sixte ajoutée, it is also a 'characteristic dissonance'".
  2. Riemann 1903, p. 61.
  3. Riemann 1903, p. 6.
  4. Riemann 1903, p. 11.
  5. Riemann 1903, p. 14.