Contrast and Dissonance in Music

Vivian Forte, the music director at Fernando Rivera Intermediate School in Daly City, California, recently challenged her middle school students with a binary form music project using Soundtrap’s online studio to create two very different contrasting sections with the music. Learn more about her project and listen to a student’s work to help you and your students get inspired!

October is the time of the year when I teach binary music form, contrast, and dissonance in my classroom. Each year, students are assigned to create a music project with two very different contrasting sections within the music. This year I took the project in a different direction, challenging my students to latch onto their “Halloween Spirit” to create a music project with dramatic contrast that starts with a spooky and unsettling side.

I call this assignment the Clash 2 Resolve Project. The project takes students through three parts.

Part One

The first part of the project involves students creating their Section A or their “Clash” or dissonance music section. Using the Soundtrap online studio, students searched the Soundtrap loop library and put together musical tracks intentionally designed not to sound right.

I encouraged them to create something that gives listeners an unsettling – even creepy – feeling, something that causes them to cringe. Students chose different instruments (piano, guitar, bass, etc.)  – any combination of sounds that would clash with each other.

Part Two

In the middle section, students create their Section B, where they take their Section A (or Clash Section) and resolve it to be a happier sound. The easiest way for them to do that is to go through each of their “Clash” loops and take them from being obnoxious to being less off-putting, even pleasant. Students listen to the transition from Section A and Section B to make sure they are creating “Clash 2 Resolve” sounds with each loop. Students use their creativity to choose whether their transitions are completely “night and day” or if the differences in the sections are less stark and intense.

Part Three

The last part of this project is when students ensure a definite contrast between Section A and Section B.  Can they clearly hear and distinguish the clash and darkness – and then the happiness and pleasantry? Students can go back and try things like adjusting volume automation or employing fading in the transition. This part of the project is their time to make any final tweaks, creating nuances that make their projects shine.

Before this project, I attempted another binary music form project with my students, but they had trouble understanding and getting into it. With this Clash 2 Resolve Project, students got excited. I think that’s because they loved the fact that they were given permission to make something sound horrible – and creepy.

Listen to one of my students’ projects here!

Soundtrap Clash 2 Resolve Student Example
Clash 2 Resolve Audio File Link
About Vivian Forte
Vivian Forte began her music adventure by singing in various children’s choirs and learned the flute at the age of eleven. She first discovered her passion for teaching music as the flute and flag coach for Spirit of Sunnyvale Cadet Bands in 1994. Vivian credits her strong foundation in music education from San Jose State University, where she earned a BA in music and teaching credential. Vivian Forte has 26 years of experience coaching and teaching instrumental and vocal music throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.She also holds a MA in Educational Administration from SFSU. Currently, Vivian enjoys continuing to develop the music program during distance learning at Fernando Rivera Intermediate School in Daly City, CA.