Seven is supposed to be the number of perfection, so they say… “they” being the people who know all about numbers and their meaning. But if you know music, you know that the 7th is an unresolved, tension filled note of dissonance. It’s that “almost last” note in the scale, straining for the tonic. It’s out of accord and it clashes, but it’s oh so beautiful. The 7th note has long been my favorite, and to understand why, you need only to listen to it hanging there. Play a song that’s filled with dissonance, and it will stir longings and melodies that no other note can hope to achieve. It leaves you in tension, longing for resolve and to be taken home to the 1st. It always goes there. It has to. Play a 7th, and you’ll always hear it resolve into the tonic in your head. It’s as if the presence of the 7th reminds you of home. It calls it, evidences it. A note of dissonance always ends in rest and completion. And that note, in all of its discord, is beautiful. Interesting that it should be the number we describe as perfection–that perfection would not be the absence of discord and tension, but rather it would be found in the presence of it.
In music and in life, there are notes that have an ache to them and leave you in a place of dissonance. Often we despise the 7th moments in life that hold this tension, because we long for immediate resolve. Our hearts want to go back to rest as much as music wants to find its tonic. We are all straining for final resolution. But these moments can last so long that we no longer hear the tonic note resolving in our head, and we forget that this place of tension actually serves to pull us into the resting place we long for. We wish that we could have only the moments of resolve, and nothing we need resolve from. But somehow the tonic is so much less when dissonance is no longer by its side to bring you there. If music carried no 7ths, it would lose too much of its beauty, so too would life. In some manner, the definition of perfection is found in these beautiful, unresolved sounds that call us home.