I'm looking to understand music theory behind dissonance, unresolved dark music. What makes a song sound serious and not "rainbows". When writing a bassline or melodies, is it possible to achieve darkness in all 12 major scales? Or is it only necessary to use minors and some other modes? I know about tritones and that no matter what scale, you can make tritones and achieve dissonance. But what other ways I can achieve this? I know that close intervals sounds more dissonant like minor 2nd, but then that doesn't explain why tritone sounds dissonant when it's sits next to perfect 5th.

I want to know what intervals should I play and how to to end my melody progression. I know that I should not resolve to tonal center at the end of progression but that doesn't always work either. Like I-VI-II-VI would be a good example of unresolved progression? It doesn't end on tonal frst note but on 6th degree which makes tension I suppose?

Looking for all the logic behind dark music from theory side. I just learned all the 12 major scales and their fingerings and now I when I jam on my synthesizer, my basslines and melodies sounds cheesy.

Here is the example of sound I want to achieve:

  • 2
    You have a lot of questions in one. It’s a bit of a big topic, maybe too broad for this site. Two things I suggest: 1) learn to play the music that sounds dark to you so you see how other musicians do it. Experience is much more useful than theory. 2) keep writing bass lines and melodies but when you come up with an idea that sounds cheesy, change it. You just found a way to not write dark sounding melodies. Remember it and don’t do it again. If you have a cheesy four note melody change two of the notes, maybe by just a half step. Experiment and keep doing things you never did before. Jan 31, 2019 at 18:59
  • @ToddWilcox I think there is a valid question in there, with already a nice answer. OP could just simplify it... no?
    – coconochao
    Jan 31, 2019 at 20:58
  • @ToddWilcox Fair enough. I was really rushing when creating this post, so it's all over the place. Tomorrow when I have time, I will restructure it properly.
    – Limpuls
    Jan 31, 2019 at 22:16

2 Answers 2


I know that close intervals sounds more dissonant...

It's not the closeness, but rather about the ratio between the two pitches where the idea is 'simple' ratios sound consonant. Look at the 'pitch ratios' on this wiki chart.

But, that is just a technicality. It seems to me you have a good idea how musical elements work. Dark music can be achieved with: minor tonality, dissonant intervals, unresolved dissonances.

From the two clips I notice: the tempos are fairly slow for EDM, and the harmonic rhythm is slow meaning the chords are held a long time before a change is made. Holding something for a long time is a way to build up tension.

I think your observation about not resolving is a good insight. You could say that leads to a sort of static quality. If normally tension and resolution lead to a dynamic feel - a feel of movement and progression, then a constant tension doesn't really move. You stay stuck in a state of anxiety.

Avoiding strong chord progression could heighten that static quality. You could try avoiding V to I or other root progression by descending fifth. I don't mean avoid entirely, but this is something to pay attention to.

Consider the modal scale degrees and the color shading you can get with altered scale degrees. The modal degrees are ^2, ^3, ^6, and ^7. You can think of the modes as getting darker from Lydian to Locrian by the gradual lowering of scale degrees. I made a chart arranging modes by lowered degree for another post.

Major chords are often thought of as happy and so it is natural to think dark music = no major chords. But, the context in which major chords are used is important. Try taking major chords out of a diatonic context.

Major chords which are chromatic mediants have a different feel - dramatic, spooky, dark, etc.

Also, try exotic scales that contain major chords. One example is the double harmonic scale. It has a major ^3 degree, but also lowered scale degrees which create augmented seconds that are similar to the harmonic minor scale. In C double harmonic the tonic chord is C major and the lowered supertonic chord is Db major. Two major chords, but they are a half step apart. That never happens in diatonic scales. It creates a sort of uncanny use of major chords. Try exploiting those possibilities.

  • +1 for mentioning chromatic mediants and double harmonic scale. also look at phrygian dominant scale. @Limpuls, take a look at 'dark metal' music they use alot of chromatic mediants. I'm also looking for ideas how to create scary/dark sounds.
    – user34288
    Jan 31, 2019 at 20:19
  • +1 for mentioning modes. It was my first thought after listening to the songs! Simplest solution is to write in slow tempo using darker modes, such as minor, frygian and locrian. It can't get cheesy this way!
    – coconochao
    Jan 31, 2019 at 20:54
  • So many great insights. You said that slow harmonic rhythm creates tension, I have never thought about it this way. That really explains why so many songs similar to the ones I posted, often has this pad/drone/ambient sound sitting back in the background playing 1-2 notes throughout 4 bars not changing much. I would also assume you would want to play darker notes for slow harmonic rhythm and some brighter notes for melody, arpeggios. As for not resolving, can you notice unresolved progressions in any of my examples? If so, can you explain it to us the progressions used, like degrees, notes.
    – Limpuls
    Jan 31, 2019 at 22:12
  • @Limpuls the first one uses phrygian mode. The bass line plays the degrees 1(x6) 3 2 and repeats. Second one seems locrian, and the main synthesizer phrase is degrees 1 5.
    – coconochao
    Feb 1, 2019 at 15:38
  • @coconochao Thanks, tried to reproduce bassline for first track in phrygian mode on my piano app on phone, but sounded almost nothing like it. Probably, timbre has a lot to do, too.
    – Limpuls
    Feb 2, 2019 at 12:29

Context can create a lot of dark atmosphere look at type o negative

Alot of this album is in major scales but it's considered one of the greatest goth metal records of all time.

Similarly Mike Patton of faith no more Mr bungle etc would create incredibly dark songs when in "theory" they shouldn't be. Consider music theory as a basis but think outside the box and stand out.

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