What is Atonal Music?

When we say “Atonal music”, we mean that it lacks a tonal center or key. This is what sets atonal music apart from traditional music. Compositions that are atonal range from the early 20th century to the present. Let’s look at a few characteristics of atonal music.


Composers who use atonality in composition often have to be careful about the amount of dissonance they use. It’s difficult to create atonal music without the right compositional tools and skills. To create atonal music with the right dissonance, you’ll need to know the differences between tonality and dissonance.

Atonal music can be either dissonant or consonant. A dissonant tone can have the opposite effect of one that is consonant. If the tonal scale is a major seventh, for instance, the piece will probably sound more dissonant than it should be.

A tonal composer may choose to avoid dissonance to achieve a certain level of contrast, but a dissonant piece might sound more evocative. For example, a Beethoven symphony may contain a descending tone. The dissonant piece may also be in the form of a melody. This means that the melody will have a low-frequency tone while the other notes will have a high-pitched tone.

Cognitive neuroscientist Marion Cousineau studied the connection between dissonance and music preferences. She found that the brain is sensitive to dissonance. When two tones close to each other clash, a rattling sound is produced. This rattling effect is similar to the aversion we feel to roughness.

In music, dissonance is used by composers to create a sense of urgency. These dissonant sounds have been used to create some of the most profoundly moving music in history. Mozart was a pioneer of using dissonance. His music also often employs variations of harmonic tension.

A composer’s use of dissonance and consonance is arbitrary, but it’s not necessarily necessary to create tonality in an atonal piece. Sometimes, a pure serial composer sets up a sense of tonality intentionally in a piece. To do this, a composer can simply elongate the bass tone row and play those notes loudly. This kind of tonality would last for about eight measures.

Dissonance in atonal music can be achieved through the use of simple or complex ratio intervals. The A7b9 chord, for example, is a dissonant chord. However, a piano piece played with voice-led chords is not considered tonal.


The idea of dissonance is very common in atonal music, especially in pieces that have no fixed major or minor key. Often, dissonances are harsh or unresolved, and this creates a sense of tension that can be very dramatic. In contrast, the consonance found in tonal music satisfies the longing for resolution.

While tonality is a common characteristic of classical music, it can also be used in jazz. Unlike tonal music, atonal songs typically modulate through several keys without a clear tonal center. This means that the clash between melody and harmony needs to be examined in its entirety. This style is often found in the jazz of the 1960s, like the work of Miles Davis before his groundbreaking Fusion era.

Another common way to create tension in atonal music is through key changes. This creates an anticipation of returning to the tonic chord, which is the tonal center of the composition. However, there are also other ways to create tension in atonal music, such as moving out of the familiar note zone.

Tension in atonal music is different from the tension you feel in everyday life. It does not necessarily mean stress or anxiety. Rather, tension is a sense of unrest, instability, and excitement. It creates anticipation of the next moment, and it can make music seem exciting or enticing.

Tension in atonal music is a result of the interplay between the composer’s intent and the listener’s expectations. The composer places these expectations in the listener’s mind when he or she creates the piece. Those expectations are based on accepted stylistic norms.

Schoenberg’s atonal music is a great example of the difficulties that composers faced in the twentieth century. Composers have sought to analyze the music by using a Schenkerian approach or pitch set theory. However, the theory Schoenberg developed is very different and requires further investigation to fully understand its implications.

Lack of coherence

Lack of coherence in atonal music has prompted criticism from some prominent composers. Early twentieth-century German composer Paul Hindemith was critical of contemporary music, arguing that many composers were denying the ethical and moral importance of music. He believed that atonal music lacked “soul.” In addition, he claimed that the music was just a “play of tones.” His concerns were echoed by other composers of the time.

The relationship between perceived personal control and perceived need for structure is well-established, and higher perceived control leads to a higher degree of aesthetic experience. However, the need for structure may not be the only factor in determining a composer’s success. While the lack of coherence in atonal music may be disconcerting, it does not necessarily mean that an artist is not trying to achieve artistic goals.

One important factor that influences the quality of atonal music is the degree of similarity between pitches. Similarity of timbre, pitch, and loudness among musical samples can lead to the development of memorable musical patterns. These patterns are useful to musicians, as they serve as a listening guide. They also indicate that a listener is forming a momentary predictive model of the music they are listening to.

Despite the lack of coherence in atonal music, the underlying pattern or structure is often a key source of pleasure. As such, participants reported a great sense of discovery while listening to atonal music. They also valued moments of perceptual insight that they credited to a “listening guide.”

The problem with lack of coherence in atonal music is that it is difficult to form a prediction and predict the outcome of a musical performance. This results in a continuous exploration process that requires a high degree of adaptability from the listener. This requires the listener to have a high level of acculturation and an ability to create new prediction models.

A similar problem occurs in music where the same sounds are played at different pitches. In this case, a linear model is not appropriate.

Lack of gravity

While tonal music has a tonal center, atonal music has no such center and uses all twelve tones equally. The lack of a “root” tone makes atonal music feel a bit disjointed and lacking in sense of form. This can be a difficult style to master, and one that’s best suited for the more advanced listener.

To explain atonality, it is important to first understand how it differs from tonal music. While tonality is present in western classical music, atonal music does not. This is one of the reasons why it is more challenging to perform. While Western classical music relies on tonality as a foundation, atonal music is completely devoid of tonality.

Atonality was advocated by composers like Schoenberg and Adorno. These composers wanted to avoid a strict harmonic hierarchy and instead explore the possibilities of expressionism in music. They saw this style as a form of art, eschewing realism in favour of capturing the inner experience.