Scarlet & Grey
Ohio State University
School of Music

Consonance and Dissonance - Virtual Pitch Theory

Ernst Terhardt has established a distinguished career through his research on the perception of pitch. Terhardt's model of pitch perception is possibly the most predictive of the subjective experience evoked by complex spectra.

One way to conceive of dissonance is that it arises due to pitch ambiguity. Some spectra evoke very clear pitch sensations. For example, partials conforming to the harmonic series will evoke a strong pitch sensation corresponding to the fundamental. However, spectra that deviate significantly from the harmonic series tend to evoke competing pitch sensations. This ambiguity is evident, for example, in the sound of a bell. Bells typically produce several concurrent pitches: these are known as the striking tone the ring tone and the hum tone.

According to Terhardt's view, dissonance is a negative valenced sensory experience that arises when a sound scene evokes highly ambiguous pitch perceptions.