Stumpfs Theory Of Musical Consonance And Dissonance

German philosopher, psychologist, and musician Carl (Karl) Stumpf (1848-1936) proposed a theory of consonance and dissonance in music, which states that tonal combinations judged most consonant are those that tend to fuse together. The greater the degree of fusion (as in an octave), the greater is the consonance. Likewise, in dissonance, when tones are played together, the degree to which they separate out and can be heard as single tones, the greater is the dissonance. The phenomenon of combination tones, also called resultant tones, is the occurrence of an additional tone that is perceived when two separate tones are sounded simultaneously. According to the combinational tone theory, there are two types of combination tones: the difference tone, sometimes called the grave harmonic, whose frequency is the difference in the frequencies of the generating tones, and the summation tone, whose frequency is the sum of the frequencies of the generating tones. Stumpf's theory emphasizes the fact that tones an octave apart seem to "fuse" into one psychical unity, and such fusion involves musical consonance. But, when one tone is sounded together with another tone a semitone higher, the hearer is keenly aware of the distinctness of the two tones and, at the same time, finds the combination highly discordant. Stumpf regarded the degree of fusion between tones as the basis for musical consonance. The fact that the increasing complexity of vibration ratios, in general, is accompanied by decreasing consonance fits well with Stumpf's theory. Stumpf's emphasis on "fusion" makes it distinctly not a physical but a psychological theory. See also AUDITION/HEARING, THEORIES OF; FESTINGER'S COGNITIVE DIS-


Stumpf, K. (1883-1890). Tonpsychologie.

Leipzig: Hirzel. Stumpf, K. (1898-1924). Beitrage zur akustik und musik wissenschaft. Leipzig: Barth.


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