Why is the perfect fourth dissonant in some cases when it does not sound dissonant? When I play it in close position, it does not sound dissonant at all. When I play it as a compound interval, I would kind of agree an extremely excessively tiny bit. Why is it considered a dissonance sometimes when it actually does not?

  • This might have the answer you want: music.stackexchange.com/questions/64984/…
    – Mirlan
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 5:39
  • Highly related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/67061/…
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 5:42
  • It will depend what instrument/tuning it gets played on. Give us a clue at least.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 7:35
  • @Tim I think it's reasonable to assume 12-TET here, and I doubt the instrument would make a huge impact on its consonance.
    – user45266
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 15:10
  • @Tim: It doesn't depend on the instrument except in artificial circumstances (no musical context) and with untrained listeners. What it really depends on is musical context.
    – user9480
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 1:52

2 Answers 2


Dissonance has no universal definition but depends on style and context.

For example, the perfect fourth is a dissonance in the context of species counterpoint. Whether it sounds pleasant, subjectively, is irrelevant: in that domain, it behaves as a dissonance, that must be resolved through falling by step. Again the everyday definition of dissonance is not involved here. In this context, the word dissonant indicates a tension function: the music cannot stop on this note, it must resolve according to the rules of the style.


The consonance of the Perfect Fourth, like all intervals, depends on context. In this video, there's a great example of perfect fourths sounding really dissonant.

Also, certain styles of music treat it different ways. Consonance and dissonance are largely context and culture related in nature, and though people have attempted to quantify them, they really can't be pinned down, other than the ubiquitous "it sounds like...".

  • The perceived dissonance of the fourth is, I believe, ultimately related to its nonexistence in the harmonic series upwards from the fundamental tone. It's first iteration is of course 3 to 4, and we naturally hear 4, the fundamental tone, as wanting to be at the bottom of the interval. But that's just my nerdy geometric opinion. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 9:45
  • @ScottWallace Wow, I never considered that. I would upvote that as an answer!
    – user45266
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 15:09
  • Nice answer, 45266! Compared to the tritone, m2, M2, m7, and M7, the P4 sounds very consonant to me. Also, that girl in the thumbnail looks nice.
    – user53472
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 11:20

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