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Lesson plans for four activities that introduce students of any age to the musical concepts of consonance and dissonance, and encourage them to relate these concepts to other disciplines.


Below are lesson plans for four activities that are designed to allow students to explore the concepts of consonance and dissonance in music. Activity 1 and Activity 2 introduce the concepts and allow the students to practice listening for and naming consonance and dissonance. Activity 3 allows students who are proficient on a musical instrument to use this knowledge to improvise harmonies which are deliberately consonant or dissonant. Activity 4 helps the students draw comparisons to similar concepts in other disciplines.

Consonance and dissonance are musical terms that have specific, slightly technical meanings, but the basic idea is one that can be grasped even by young children: Musical notes that sound good together are called consonant ; notes that seem to clash, or sound unpleasant together, are called dissonant . (If you would like to find out more, please see Consonance and Dissonance .)

Notes that are not in tune with each other are dissonant, of course, but even two notes that are tuned correctly may not sound good when they are played at the same time. Consonance depends partly on the physics of sound (see Harmonic Series and Tuning Systems for more information). But it also depends partly on the musical traditions of a particular culture (the technical meanings of the words come from the Western music tradition), and partly just on personal tastes.

Activity 1: finding consonant and dissonant notes

    Goals and standards

  • Goals - The student will practice identifying two simultaneous pitches as either "consonant" or "dissonant".
  • Objectives - After an introduction to the concepts, the students will play, or listen to, two simultaneous pitches, and will vote on which sound consonant and which dissonant.
  • Music Standards Addressed - National Standards for Music Education standard 6 (listening to, analyzing, and describing music).
  • Grade Level - K-12 (adaptable)
  • Student Prerequisites - none
  • Teacher Expertise - Teacher expertise in music is not necessary to present this activity at its most basic level. To lead more advanced students in a more involved discussion of consonance, dissonance, intervals , and resolution , the teacher must be familiar with Western music theory.
  • Time Requirements - This activity is very flexible, time-wise. It can be easily combined with activities 2 and 4 to fill a single (approximately 45-minute) class period.
  • Evaluation - Assess student learning by evaluating participation in the class discussion and "voting", or by orally quizzing each student on whether a note combination is consonant or dissonant.
  • Follow-up - Help commit this lesson to long-term memory, by continuing to ask, throughout the rest of the school year, questions about the consonance or dissonance of music that they are listening to or learning.

    Materials and preparation

  • You'll need an instrument to play on. The ideal instrument for this activity is one that the students are allowed to play, that makes specific pitched notes (preferably with little need to tune) for the children to experiment with, and on whcih you can see visually how "far apart" two notes are (i.e. how many other notes are in between them). A piano or electronic keyboard are ideal. Other possibilities: recorders, classrooms xylophones, metallophones, or bells. If the students cannot play, arrange a demonstration in which they can easily see how "far apart" the notes are (their interval ).
  • Prepare a simple, age-appropriate explanation of consonance and dissonance . You may want to be ready with some examples; play with the instrument ahead of time to find some combinations that you find clearly consonant or clearly dissonant.

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Source:  OpenStax, Noisy learning: loud but fun music education activities. OpenStax CNX. May 17, 2007 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10222/1.7
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