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My question is about the use of dissonance in music.

In the song Heart Of Amsterdam (for German users, click here instead[*]), from the Lucassen-van Giesbergen "The Gentle Storm" project, at the 3:00 mark (at least in the German link, but should be the same on youtube), the song switches from a lyric section to a guitar solo and the impression I have is that there is a change of tone from one part to the next. I was actually quite puzzled during my first listening.

As a listener with little/no musical education, I would describe it as a dissonance. Hence my questions:

  • is this really a good example of dissonance?
  • if so - what is the musical theory behind it? How does it work? Why is it used?

[*]: both are official video from the official channels, the first is blocked by Youtube in Germany because of an ongoing discussion between Youtube and the Copyright agency (GEMA)

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It's a key change: it changes from E minor to C# phrygian without preparing the listener. That's probably why the beginning of the solo sounds dissonant to you, i.e. dissonant in relation to what came before.

Unexpected (i.e. unprepared) key changes will always have such an effect. The more notes change from one key to the other, the stronger the effect will be. But the number of changed notes is not the only criterion. E.g., we're more used to switching between parallel keys, than switching between keys with distant root notes. So for many people a change from E minor to E major may give hardly any feeling of dissonance, as opposed to a change from E minor to G minor. In both cases there are three notes that are changed. Also note that in your example not only the root note but also the mode changes (natural minor/aeolian to phrygian).

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  • yes, that is what I was referring to. but why going from E to C# "without preparation" feels dissonant?
    – Federico
    Mar 2 '15 at 14:03
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    @Federico: Well, because the tonal center shifts unexpectedly and your ears are still tuned to the old tonal center of E minor. So right at the beginning you hear notes that sound dissonant to you because you try to place them in the wrong context of E minor. This is before your ears realize that the tonal center has shifted. After that, things sound OK again, don't they?
    – Matt L.
    Mar 2 '15 at 14:08
  • When you continue listening to the solo, this pattern actually repeats; like a long-drawn out Fur Elise.
    – Sanchises
    Mar 2 '15 at 15:05
  • Before they get to the bridge section the OP refers to, there is also a repeated, brief shift in the tonal center, where the melody hits the unexpected scale fragment A Bb C.
    – user9480
    Mar 2 '15 at 21:33

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