In counseling, dissonance has to do with contradicting thoughts or beliefs. It is often tied into our clients’ presenting problems with the ultimate goal of bringing relief or resolution. Through whatever interventions we use, we help our clients see contradictions and help them resolve the tension, anxiety, etc. that they feel as a result.
In music, dissonance is using two or more notes that are “disagreeable to the ear,” that just don’t quite sound right together. It’s about creating tension and drama, something unexpected or shocking. It can be planned or accidental. I absolutely LOVE using dissonance in my music.
Dissonance allows me to express uncomfortable topics or feelings that can compliment the lyrics I use. For example, in my song “Label” which chronicles a client’s experience receiving a mental health diagnosis, I use dissonance (three separate sung notes) to emphasize the tension in the lyrics:
I am not so different from you
Won’t you then just look me in the eye
What could you be so afraid of
You’ve got labels too that have a price
The other side of dissonance is resolution, or the change from disagreeable notes to agreeable ones, which resolves the tension and brings back a state of harmony. This technique can be useful to emphasize lyrics that address a lesson to be learned from tension or drama.
One technique in particular from Gestalt that I like to use is giving voice to a feeling or body sensation. I’ve seen tremendous insights and breakthroughs happen with this technique. I also use this technique in conjunction with sound, asking clients to make a sound of what something feels like (rather than explaining it in words). For example, one exercise I use includes setting out various instruments then asking a client to let me hear what anger sounds like. Clients may also use their voices to make a sound. This is especially effective in a group, allowing clients to sound their own version of anger on the count of three. It’s fascinating to hear both the similarities and differences in their expression. Dissonance is inevitable. And resolution is also inevitable as people modify their sounds based on what other people are doing.
Whether in counseling or in music, dissonance has lessons to teach us. It can be used as an intervention in itself to help people identify and resolve their issues.
Krylyn Peters is a counselor and singer/songwriter who uses the power of music and sound for healing. www.krylyn.com