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Created by: Team English - Examples.com, Last Updated: June 10, 2024


In literature and everyday conversations, the use of dissonance is a deliberate stylistic choice. Just as complex characters often drive a narrative’s plot forward, introducing dissonance underscores the tension and conflicts within various elements of the narrative or music. Similarly, how a nuanced antagonist adds depth to a story, incorporating dissonance enriches the emotional and intellectual landscape, deepening the authenticity and complexity of the scenes or compositions. This intentional use of dissonance by writers and composers engages audiences deeply, enhancing the artistic experience by reflecting the natural tension and resolution found in real life.

What is Dissonance?

Dissonance refers to a lack of harmony among musical notes, creating a sense of tension and instability in the sound. In a broader context, it also describes conflicting ideas or feelings that result in mental discomfort. This concept is used in both music and psychology to express unresolved or clashing elements that provoke a reaction in the listener or observer.

Function of Dissonance

Dissonance plays a crucial role both in music and in our psychological experiences, enhancing depth and encouraging changes.

In Music:

  1. Creates Tension and Resolution: Dissonance introduces a sense of tension in music, which is typically resolved to produce a feeling of satisfaction. This tension-release is key to making music expressive and dynamic.
  2. Adds Complexity: By incorporating dissonant notes that clash, music becomes more interesting and emotionally engaging, as it avoids being too predictable.
  3. Drives Progression: Dissonance pushes the music forward. As listeners, we naturally desire resolution from dissonant chords, and this expectation helps to propel the musical narrative.

In Psychology:

  1. Encourages Growth: When our actions don’t line up with our beliefs, this psychological dissonance can motivate us to adjust our behaviors or beliefs to reduce discomfort, leading to personal development.
  2. Spurs Changes in Behavior: Feeling dissonance can be uncomfortable, prompting us to change our behavior to restore harmony in our thoughts.
  3. Aids Decision Making: Dissonance highlights when our actions are out of step with our values, helping us to make more considered decisions that better reflect our true feelings and beliefs.

Pronunciation of Dissonance

The word “dissonance” is pronounced as \?di-s?-n?n(t)s. Here’s a breakdown to make it easier to understand how to say it:

  • The first syllable is “dis,” pronounced like the word “this.”
  • The second syllable is “so,” where the “o” sounds like the “o” in “son.”
  • The final syllable is “nance,” which sounds like “nance” in “finance.”

So, when put together, it’s pronounced as “DIS-suh-nance.”

Synonym & Antonyms For Dissonance

Synonym & Antonyms For Dissonance

Synonyms for Dissonance

  1. Discord: Lack of agreement or harmony between people or things.
  2. Disharmony: A state where things do not fit together well, often creating a sense of unrest or conflict.
  3. Conflict: A serious disagreement or argument, typically a prolonged one.
  4. Friction: The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another; can also refer to clashing relationships.
  5. Clashing: Coming into conflict or disagreement.
  6. Disagreement: A lack of consensus or approval.
  7. Strife: Angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict.
  8. Cacophony: A harsh, discordant mixture of sounds.
  9. Inconsistency: The fact or state of being inconsistent; incoherence or contradiction in terms or elements.
  10. Tension: Mental or emotional strain, often resulting from situations that involve conflict or opposition.

Antonyms for Dissonance

  1. Harmony: The combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect.
  2. Concord: Agreement or harmony between people or groups.
  3. Agreement: A negotiated and typically legally binding arrangement between parties as to a course of action.
  4. Unity: The state of being united or joined as a whole.
  5. Compatibility: A state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without conflict.
  6. Consensus: General agreement among a group or community.
  7. Peace: Freedom from disturbance; tranquility.
  8. Melody: A sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying; typically the main part of a piece of music.
  9. Consistency: Conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
  10. Relaxation: The state of being free from tension and anxiety.

Dissonance vs. Assonance

DefinitionDissonance refers to a combination of sounds that is harsh and lacks harmony, often creating a jarring effect.Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words, creating a rhythmic or melodious effect.
UsageUsed to convey tension, conflict, or discord in a literary piece.Used to enhance the musicality of a piece, making it more pleasing to the ear and often enhancing the mood or theme.
EffectCreates a sense of discomfort or unease, reflecting conflict or complexity within the narrative.Produces a soothing, harmonious sound that can emphasize a particular mood or unify phrases and sentences.
Example“The clash of the discordant bells tolled the demise of harmony in the village.”“The soft mellow light of the morn shone through the meadow.”
Literary FunctionOften highlights emotional or thematic disarray or used to intensify the reader’s emotional response to conflict.Often used to create internal rhyme or help in structuring the text’s rhythm and enhancing its lyrical qualities.
ContextsCommon in modernist poetry and prose that aims to reflect real-life complexities and contradictions.Frequently found in poetry and prose that values aural beauty and rhythmic flow.

Examples of Dissonance in real life

Dissonance in everyday life occurs when there’s a mismatch between what we believe and how we act, causing internal conflict and discomfort. Here are 10 simple examples of how dissonance can manifest in real-life situations:

  1. Driving vs. Environmental Concerns: You care about the environment but drive a large, fuel-inefficient car, leading to feelings of guilt which you might dismiss by emphasizing the need for comfort and safety.
  2. Eating Habits vs. Health Goals: You aim to eat healthily but often indulge in junk food, which you justify by saying you’ll start a diet soon.
  3. Work Ethics vs. Job Demands: You believe in honesty but find yourself exaggerating product benefits at work to meet sales targets, rationalizing that it’s necessary for your career.
  4. Spending vs. Saving: You plan to save money but buy expensive items on impulse, convincing yourself that you deserved a treat.
  5. Parenting Style vs. Stress Responses: You believe in calm parenting but sometimes yell at your kids when overwhelmed, later excusing it as a necessary discipline.
  6. Political Ideals vs. Practical Choices: You support politicians with questionable integrity because they represent your party, telling yourself that political compromise is necessary.
  7. Relationship Fidelity vs. Personal Feelings: You value loyalty but feel attracted to someone else, which you rationalize as natural and not acted upon.
  8. Procrastination vs. Valuing Education: As a student, you procrastinate despite valuing good grades, telling yourself you perform better under pressure.
  9. Social Beliefs vs. Actions: You advocate for social equality but sometimes make insensitive remarks, excusing them as just jokes.
  10. Fitness Plans vs. Laziness: You set fitness goals but frequently skip the gym, rationalizing that your body needs rest.

Examples of Dissonance in literature

  1. “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare – Macbeth struggles with his desire for power and his moral hesitation about killing King Duncan, creating a deep inner conflict.
  2. “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Raskolnikov is torn between justifying his murder for a perceived greater good and his innate sense of guilt and horror at his actions.
  3. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Gatsby faces the conflict between his idealized love for Daisy and the reality of their relationship, which is far less perfect.
  4. “1984” by George Orwell – Winston Smith deals with the dissonance of living under a repressive regime while secretly longing for truth and rebellion.
  5. “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath – Esther Greenwood is caught between the expectations placed on her as a woman in the 1950s and her own ambitions and mental health needs.
  6. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley – Victor Frankenstein grapples with his passion for creating life and the moral implications of his creation, leading to tragedy.
  7. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger – Holden Caulfield despises the phoniness of the adult world yet often finds himself acting insincerely, highlighting his struggle with authenticity.
  8. “Atonement” by Ian McEwan – Briony Tallis lives with the guilt of a childhood mistake that had serious repercussions, struggling to find redemption.
  9. “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad – Marlow is conflicted as he witnesses the cruelty of colonial exploitation, which clashes with his previous beliefs about European colonialism.
  10. “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Hester Prynne navigates the dissonance between her public shame as an adulteress and her private sense of dignity and strength.

Examples of Dissonance in Music

Dissonance in music refers to the clash of notes that creates a tension or conflict, which often resolves to a smoother, more harmonious sound. This musical technique is used to evoke emotions and deepen the listener’s experience. Here are ten examples of how dissonance is used in various pieces of music, illustrating its powerful effect on compositions:

  1. “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky – This groundbreaking piece shocked early audiences with its intense dissonance and complex rhythms, forever changing the course of classical music.
  2. Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” – In this symphony, Beethoven uses dissonance to build dramatic tension that enhances the emotional impact of the music, particularly in the turbulent first movement.
  3. “Petrushka” by Igor Stravinsky – The use of dissonant polytonality (layering different keys) creates a striking, unsettling atmosphere that suits the story of the puppet Petrushka.
  4. “Wozzeck” by Alban Berg – This opera uses atonal music and dissonance to reflect the main character’s mental distress and societal chaos, making it a poignant piece.
  5. “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” by Krzysztof Penderecki – Penderecki employs harsh, dissonant sounds to evoke the devastation of the Hiroshima bombing, making the piece a haunting reminder of the tragedy.
  6. “Black Angels” by George Crumb – This work uses intense dissonance to communicate the horrors of the Vietnam War, relying on electronic effects and extended instrumental techniques.
  7. “Piano Sonata No. 2” by Charles Ives – Often called the “Concord Sonata,” this piece mixes moments of dissonance with traditional harmony, reflecting Ives’ experimental approach to music.
  8. “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky – The dissonance in the “Infernal Dance” effectively portrays the evil character of the scene, enhancing the ballet’s dramatic effect.
  9. “Pierrot Lunaire” by Arnold Schoenberg – This piece uses atonal scales and dissonant sounds to create a spooky and surreal feeling, perfect for its moonstruck Pierrot character.
  10. “String Quartet No. 2” by Béla Bartók – The use of dissonance in the second movement expresses the turmoil and distress of World War I, reflecting the composer’s emotional response to the conflict.

Examples of Dissonance in sentences

  1. “She loved him, but at the same time, she couldn’t stand to be near him.”
    • This sentence shows emotional dissonance through conflicting feelings about a relationship.
  2. “He was famous for his generosity, yet he refused to help his closest friend in need.”
    • The dissonance here arises from the contrast between a reputation for generosity and a specific act of stinginess.
  3. “The serene landscape was shattered by the harsh sound of chainsaws.”
    • Dissonance is created by the juxtaposition of a peaceful setting with the jarring noise of destruction.
  4. “I voted for change, but now I find myself missing the old ways.”
    • This sentence displays cognitive dissonance between a desire for change and a comfort in familiarity.
  5. “The joyful celebration was tinged with sadness as they remembered those who could not attend.”
    • Emotional dissonance is conveyed through the mix of happiness and sorrow.
  6. “She was calm during the chaos, screaming silently inside her mind.”
    • The dissonance between external calmness and internal turmoil is highlighted in this sentence.
  7. “The technology was advanced, yet it was incapable of solving simple problems.”
    • This sentence demonstrates dissonance through the contradiction between being advanced and being ineffective.
  8. “He spoke of honesty while weaving a web of lies.”
    • The dissonance arises from the contrast between advocating for honesty and practicing deceit.
  9. “The room was filled with loud silences that spoke volumes.”
    • A paradoxical dissonance is created by describing silence as both loud and communicative.
  10. “She found solace in solitude, yet longed for company.”
  • This sentence shows dissonance through the conflicting desires for solitude and companionship.

Examples of Dissonance in Poetry

Dissonance in poetry often serves to heighten emotional tension or underscore the contrast in ideas, enhancing the reader’s engagement through auditory discomfort or thematic conflict. Here are 10 examples of how poets use dissonance effectively:

  1. “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot:
    • The poem uses stark, broken images and clashing sounds to create a feeling of decay and disconnection, mirroring the poem’s themes of desolation and cultural fragmentation.
  2. “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath:
    • The harsh, repetitive sounds in this poem intensify the emotional distress and anger Plath expresses towards her father, enhancing the poem’s raw and confrontational tone.
  3. “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats:
    • Yeats employs unsettling imagery and ideas, such as “things fall apart” and “anarchy is loosed,” to evoke a sense of impending chaos, reflecting the poem’s apocalyptic tone.
  4. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas:
    • The use of contradictory commands like “curse” and “bless” in the same breath highlights the turmoil in pleading with his father to fight against death.
  5. “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman:
    • The sibilant sounds and the repetitive use of “filament” emphasize the spider’s isolation and the poet’s own feelings of disconnection.
  6. “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath:
    • The poem’s language creates a clinical tone that conflicts with the personal and emotional reflections on appearance and aging, deepening the impact of the mirror’s perspective.
  7. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot:
    • The poem’s unusual simile of an evening “like a patient etherized upon a table” sets a disconcerting mood that captures Prufrock’s paralysis and introspection.
  8. “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats:
    • The juxtaposition of the immortal bird against the mortal human world underscores the poem’s exploration of transcendence and the fleeting nature of human life.
  9. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost:
    • The allure of the peaceful, snowy woods contrasts with the narrator’s obligations, reflecting the universal conflict between desire and duty.
  10. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:
  • The choice between two diverging paths metaphorically represents life’s choices and their inherent uncertainties, captured through the poem’s reflective tone.

What does it mean when someone is dissonance?

When someone is described as experiencing dissonance, it typically means they are feeling internal conflict or discomfort because their beliefs, values, or actions are in conflict with each other. This term is often used in psychological contexts to describe the tension that arises when one’s actions do not align with their personal values or self-image.

What is the best way to describe dissonance?

Dissonance can be best described as a lack of harmony or agreement. In music, it refers to a combination of sounds that clash and create tension, needing resolution. In psychology, dissonance refers to the uncomfortable tension that occurs when someone’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are contradictory or conflict with one another.

What does dissonance mean in psychology?

In psychology, dissonance refers to the mental discomfort or stress experienced when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, values, or attitudes. This leads to a state called cognitive dissonance, which people are motivated to resolve by changing their beliefs, attitudes, or actions to reduce the inconsistency and restore mental balance.

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