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Lean Into the Dissonances of Music and Life

Take a note from musicians, trying leaning into the dissonances of life. In doing so, you might discover more joy in both the highs and lows of life

"I don't like the way this sounds. It sounds like a mistake," said James, my beginner piano student.

"You aren't supposed to! It helps the next notes sound even more pleasant," I replied.

I went on to explain the concept of consonances and dissonances in music. Consonances are the intervals, or distances between notes, that sound pleasing to the ear. This includes unisons, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, and octaves. Dissonances are the intervals that, to James, sounded like a mistake. The notes of these intervals, 2nds, tritones, and 7ths, don’t sound like they go together. In fact, it can feel uncomfortable listening to them, at least at first.

Image of Dissonances and Consonances in chords.  Images from Audiofanzine:

Why Do We Need Dissonances?

In music, dissonances create tension that can be resolved with the entrance of the consonances. Dissonances help the listener appreciate the beauty, resonance, and symmetry of the consonances. Music can exist without dissonances but is made richer through the use of them.

As a musician, I look for the dissonances and lean into them as I play. I shaped my phrases around them, crescendoing into them and pulling away from them as I resolve the conflict of the dissonance. Composers use these musical moments of dissonance to highlight the beauty of the subsequent notes.

The Dissonances Found in Life

How true is this in all of life? The beauty of life can often be overlooked when there is no conflict, tension, stress, or hardship. There is a time for everything in life, both the highs and the lows. The hardships of life often make the highs all that much sweeter.

I remember the ease of bringing home my fourth child from the hospital only two days after he was born. With my first two children, I took for granted what a gift it was to be able to do such a thing. The experience with my third child was completely different. He was found to have a life-threatening condition on his second day of life that resulted in a two-week stay at the hospital and open-heart surgery when he was only seven days old. So, when my fourth baby came home healthy so soon after delivery, it felt miraculous.

Image of a woman in a white shirt and jeans looking sad on a couch

Embrace the Dissonances

The curious thing about musical dissonances is that the more time you spend listening to them, the more beauty can be found in the dissonances, even in the absence of any resolution to the consonances. Interestingly, trained musicians and avid music listeners often find beauty in highly dissonant music when others do not due to their extended exposure to the tension found in these passages.

As much as I would prefer to avoid feeling the pain of life's hardships (and I certainly don’t go looking for more), I know I discover new things about myself, others, and life in those moments. Then, when life rotates back to peaceful times, I find those moments much more refreshing.

Avoiding the pain of hardships can be tempting. In the past, I've definitely thought, "If I could just numb out and not feel, then it would be easier." However, if I were to do so, I would risk also numbing out when the good, beautiful, and joyful moments of life come. That is not something I desire.

As with music, I'm leaning into and embracing the pain of life, when it comes, so I can more fully experience the joys of life as well. Beauty can be present in the hardships of life as well. Sometimes we have to be willing to lean in and experience it to the fullest.

Food For Thought:

Where is one place in your life where you can lean into dissonance?

Envision how it would feel to experience and feel the fullness of your dissonance in a way that magnifies the beauty of the consonances in your life. Then give it a try!

I encourage you to look for the beauty in the rainy days of life. Drop the umbrella, and dance and splash in the puddles. Perhaps in doing so, you will find your way to experiencing the sun to its fullest.


The art of learning to play the piano itself is a practice in finding consonance in the dissonance as one wrestles with learning new skills and developing consistent at-home practice habits.

There are moments of ease and moments of challenge in both! Yet, it is well worth the effort to actively partake in the joy of music.

If this skill is on your bucket list, what’s holding you back from starting your musical journey? It would be my honor to use my expertise as a teacher and musician to create a simple and individualized plan to guide you into reaching your musical goals. Ready to get started?

The process is simple:

1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.

2. Select a lesson time.

3. Take your first lesson!


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