6

Take for example C augmented. It sounds more consonant in the treble clef above middle C and more dissonant in the bass clef. However the proportions of the frequencies are exactly the same. This doesn't make any sense that it is more dissonant in the bass while the proportions are the same. Frequency proportions being the same should suggest the same amount of dissonance in every octave.

So why are dissonant intervals and chords more dissonant in the bass clef and more consonant in the treble clef?

  • 2
    I edited your question for clarity to reflect that you're referring to the proportions being the same, not the actual frequencies being the same. If you believe that I changed your meaning, feel free to revert it, or re-edit it. Also, for your future reference, musicians often refer to these proportions as frequency ratios. – Caleb Hines Jan 3 '15 at 20:45
  • It's interesting that Beethoven, used to a piano with leather hammers and lighter stringing, sometimes wrote LH chords that sound quite muddy on the modern instrument. – Laurence Payne Jan 7 '15 at 17:30
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    Which musical instruments are you referring to when you say that things sound more dissonant? – user1044 Jan 7 '15 at 18:17
  • I mean just in general that it sounds more dissonant in the bass clef than in the treble clef – Caters Jan 8 '15 at 4:15
16

In general, smaller intervals do not sound as pleasing in a bass register as they do in a treble register. This is a general effect that occurs regardless of whether you play a consonance or a dissonance, although it is more noticeable with dissonances.

What happens is that the overtones of the bass notes end up having more noticeable clashes between them, and those clashes are more audible because they are lower in pitch. When you are in a higher register, the clashing overtones occur at a much higher, and therefore less noticeable range.

One way to get around this is to use a more open voicing. For example, instead of playing C-E-G#, try playing C-G#-E. Unfortunately, that's a tenth, and not playable for many left hands. This is why you often see widely-spaced arpeggios in the left hand of keyboard music. Playing closely-voiced chords in the bass often creates a very thick, heavy sound, sometimes described as "muddy".

  • A good search term if you want to read more about this is "lower interval limit" – Johan Nov 1 at 12:35
6

Are you talking about the piano here? Because on the piano, even single notes are more dissonant in the bass clef than in the treble clef (look up "disharmonicity") because of the thickness of strings.

Also for low frequency you can hear more overtones, and consequently their possible clashes. And also for lower frequencies more beatings are in the noticeable range for the same relative discrepancies.

I know that I get a large bad wobble when playing D1 together with D#1 on my accordion. But if I pull in the octave D2+D#2 additionally (which basically is just overtones to the bass tones), the result becomes much more unpleasant.

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    An addendum to this is that the longer the piano is, the thinner the string can be and still have the same weight. This is (one of the reasons) why the bass in a large grand piano sounds cleaner than in a small console piano. Here is a very good summary. – BobRodes Jan 5 '15 at 6:10
3

There are also psychoaccoustical reasons, the most relevant in this situation being that the critical band is roughly 100 Hz and constant from 500 Hz and below.

This means that a C0 (16) and G0 (24) dyad would be within the same critical band and be processed simultanously but a C4 (256) and G4 (384) dyad would be in different critical bands and thus processed as two independent notes.

Being processed simultanously here means that non-linear effects will start to dominate and that is in loose terms what we find dissonant. Consider also that it may be no coincidence that our middle C4 is the very octave where we can first clearly discern the P5 interval by conventional standards with C0 approx. equal to 16.

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