Simultaneous consonance in music perception and composition


Simultaneous consonance is a salient perceptual phenomenon corresponding to the perceived pleasantness of simultaneously sounding musical tones. Various competing theories of consonance have been proposed over the centuries, but recently a consensus has developed that simultaneous consonance is primarily driven by harmonicity perception. Here we question this view, substantiating our argument by critically reviewing historic consonance research from a broad variety of disciplines, re-analyzing consonance perception data from four previous behavioral studies representing more than 500 participants, and modeling three Western musical corpora representing more than 100,000 compositions. We conclude that simultaneous consonance is a composite phenomenon that derives in large part from three phenomena: interference, periodicity/harmonicity, and cultural familiarity. We formalize this conclusion with a computational model that predicts a musical chord’s simultaneous consonance from these three features, and release this model in an open-source R package, incon, alongside 15 other computational models also evaluated in this paper. We hope that this package will facilitate further psychological and musicological research into simultaneous consonance.

Psychological Review