The moderator who unilaterally closed How can a layperson in 2017 hear the Perfect Fourth as dissonant, to empathize with the Renaissance's judgment? commented:

Both questions "Instead, how can I empathize with those who judged the P4 as dissonant?" and "What can I do to stop hearing the P4 as consonant (that Western music from 1700 onwards habituate me to do), for hearing the P4 as dissonant from Renaissance music's context/mindset? " are option based. If you can't hear the 4th as dissonant that's fine you'll just have to understand that to someone from the Renaissance, it is a dissonant interval. You're not going to rewire what you hear as consonant or dissonant.

Do the following articles counter the bolded sentence?


Then the researchers tested how both groups felt about beating. They found that the amusics could hear it and disliked it about as much as the control group. So apparently something else was causing the latter to dislike the dissonant intervals. [...] The amusics, meanwhile, registered no difference between the two cases: they seem insensitive to harmonicity.


This suggests that preference for consonance over dissonance isn’t baked into universal human auditory processing, but is rather something we develop by being exposed to certain kinds of frequency relationships in the music that we hear. It might be that, because Tsimane music doesn’t make use of harmony, the Tsimane people might not develop preferences for certain harmonies over others. It’s not clear whether they were even able to tell the difference between dissonance and consonance at all. Their brains might not have learned to tell the difference.


[...] “This study suggests that preferences for consonance over dissonance depend on exposure to Western musical culture, and that the preference is not innate,” says Josh McDermott, the Frederick A. and Carole J. Middleton Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. [...] The findings suggest that it is likely culture, and not a biological factor, that determines the common preference for consonant musical chords, says Brian Moore, a professor of psychology at Cambridge University, who was not involved in the study.

“Overall, the results of this exciting and well-designed study clearly suggest that the preference for certain musical intervals of those familiar with Western music depends on exposure to that music and not on an innate preference for certain frequency ratios,” Moore says.

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    Nothing in this says you are rewiring what you hear. What they are saying is the origin of what you perceive as consonant and dissonant is cultural which is 100% true. – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 1:44
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    @Dom the second and third quotes do seem to say that you are rewiring what you hear by exposure. – topo morto Dec 27 '17 at 8:58
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    @topomotro during the development phase of life maybe, but this just says there's a cultural difference which we were already aware of due to the idea of the perfect 4th being perceived dissonant in renaissance music. Perception in general is something hard to pin down due to the nature of it. We can't hear exactly what you hear or see exactly what you see. – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 12:39
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    @Dom if there really is an identifiable 'developmental phase' during which perception of consonance and dissonance is established simply through exposure, then that starts to point to an answer to Canada's question (even if that answer is basically 'it depends how old you are'). On your more general point, perception is hard to pin down, but as a music theory site, we should aim to tackle those difficulties where we can (which we may not be able to do in this case). – topo morto Dec 27 '17 at 13:18
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    @topomorto This knowlage is not a music theorists domain. We're not psychologist and any answers we're going to come up with are pure speculation. All my knowlage in this area is through a few sensory and perception classes in collage. There are psychologist who specialize in this field that won't be able to give an answer for this, so why should we be able to answer it? – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 13:31
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    @Dom The perception of tone and music in general is very much in the music theorist's domain. It's true that the knowledge needed to answer this particular question probably isn't out there right now, and for that very same reason, we shouldn't make assertions about this particular area ourselves. – topo morto Dec 27 '17 at 13:43
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    @topomorto music theory tells you what you hear not how you hear it which is an important distinction. – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 13:45
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    @Dom we've had this discussion before. There are lots of areas of music theory, some of which certainly do deal with 'how you hear it'. Consonance and dissonance is a case in point - they're descriptions of the subjective sensation of an objective phenomenon. – topo morto Dec 27 '17 at 14:04
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    @topomorto the concept of connsoance and dissonance is a theoretical concept, but in practice it's not garunteeded to reflect the same exact sound in your head as to someone else. Western culture utilizes this enough to the point to where it's relatively close for those studying it, but remember the heart of the question: Perfect 4ths were considered dissonant at one point which they are not anymore. This is due to how they are heard as they theory didn't change. – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 14:16

I'm going to tell a story from when I was taking an Ear Training class that reflects why I believe that trying to make yourself hear any harmony any way has a lot of option and weight to it you might not realize.

It was about halfway through the Ear Training I class when we got to chords one of the students was having a tough time differentiating between major and minor chords and he asked a simple question which was:

What does a major chord sound like?

The professor's first response was

It sounds like ... a major chord.

He followed it up with trying to describe how he hears it and how hearing the third is lowered in the minor chord to try to be as helpful as possible to the student. The initial response while, not being very descriptive, outlines the problem of trying to use the sound to describe the sound to others.

The purpose of Ear Training is to help you recognize things like intervals, rhythm, chords, ect, but it doesn't tell you what to hear or anything about what to perceive as consonant or dissonant. So while the student took the class and was able to tell a major chord from a minor chord, he was obviously not perceiving the major chord the same way as everyone else.

In general, any perception is in the eyes of the beholder. We carve out ideas of senses, but not the physical sensation. One more example is colors. Colors also have a very distinct roll in human perception, however, can you really answer the question "What does red look like?". You can point to the hex code (#FF0000) or the first color of the rainbow, do you really experience the same red? Again different cultures group and perceive color differently. Below is a chart showing the basic perceived difference in colors between Jahia and English colors.


This is before taking into account other complications like color blindness which also exist in music like partial deafness or tinnitus.

There are also more examples of this out there in studies, I just can't seem to find them right now. I might pull out my old Sensory and Perception text book to see if I can give other clearer examples.

So in closing:

  • We don't know what you're currently perceiving a 4th as.
  • We don't know if you have any conditions that will affect this goal like partial deafness or tinnitus.
  • If someone does have a method to do this (which there is none that I know of) it's not guaranteed to work for you.

These factors together for me make the question not very objective.

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    These are interesting anecdotes, but I can think of ones that go the other way - e.g. for en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_dress, techniques were discussed online involving hiding or focusing on part of the picture that allowed users to see the picture the other way. Or 'magic eye' pictures - some people had a lot of difficulty in seeing them in 3D, but again techniques were discussed to allow people to start seeing the 3D image. – topo morto Dec 27 '17 at 9:02
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    @topomorto which didn't work for everyone and the dress was an optical illusion which is caused this, but the Jahai might not be affected by the illusion. – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 12:28
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    @topomorto it's also not permanently altering your perception of colors or allowing you to at will switch seeing those colors in general which nothing can do that I'm aware of. It's an illusion which shows your brain struggles sometimes to pigeonhole certaint senses. – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 13:07
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    as I said, they're only anecdotes and personal experiences, just like some of the things you mentioned. – topo morto Dec 27 '17 at 13:11
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    @topomorto the perception of colors has very much been proven to be cultural in origin though the exact mechanisms are not clear yet because perception is very tricky to test for. – Dom Dec 27 '17 at 13:16
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    Sure. One has to get into the specifics of each case. – topo morto Dec 27 '17 at 13:22

That specific question about dissonance differences between the renaissance and now is not on topic here because it is about opinion - more specifically about the opinion of individuals in those two times is based entirely on their culture and experiences.

Trying to argue otherwise is pointless.

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