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Just For Fun / The Sliding Scale of Musical Harshness

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Not to be confused with the Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness, which deals with a similar concept, but in specific relation to rock and metal music, and also deals more with the use of bass distortion and less with dissonance and white noise.

The Sliding Scale of Musical Harshness is a scale intended to represent the 'harshness' of music. As a simple guide, finger nails being dragged over a chalkboard would generally be considered to be just about as harsh as sound could get, while Erik Satie's Gymnopedies or Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports would be considered the opposite. It is also worth noting that while some Heavy Metal might score highly on the Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness, it might not necessarily be especially harsh, while a piece of music which is not especially hard, such as much of Neutral Milk Hotel's output, may actually be considered far harsher.


As a guide to how the scale works, here are several waypoints. It should be noted that, while the scale cannot go lower than 0, it has no cap, although for a piece of music to achieve an infinite score its creation would have to involve the destruction of the universe, which is not advisory.

  • 5: The aforementioned Gymnopedie and Music For Airports. About as gentle as music can possibly be.
  • 10: The Adventure Time closing theme - The presence of percussion drags this up, but otherwise it's still incredibly gentle.
  • 20: Aphex Twin - Flim - A drum and bass beat brings a piece that would otherwise be a level 5 up considerably higher.
  • 30: The Beatles - She Loves You - Would be down in the high teens, if it weren't for the distortion on the relatively primitive early sixties recording.
  • 40: Bruce Springsteen - Born In The USA - Bruce's vocals the very loud percussion bring an otherwise gentle piece of music much further up the scale.
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  • 50: Shonen Knife - Hot Chocolate - A punky guitar riff drags this track further up the scale, but it's still fairly easy listening music, at the end of the day.
  • 60: The Pixies - Indie Cindy - A lot of hard rock and punk can be found around this region, as harshness and hardness begin to separate from one another.
  • 70: Rage Against the Machine - Bombtrack - Although this song is hard by rock standards, it's not as harsh as you might think. Some of Tom Morello's solos can be much harsher than this, however.
  • 80: The Raveonettes - Dead Sound - Although it's a pop song, this track makes heavy use of the white noise associated with harshness, but in a manner which is accessible to the mainstream listener.
  • 90: Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945 - Same as above, but more extreme in its harshness.
  • 125: Radiohead - The National Anthem from Kid A- The second half of this song pretty much describes the point at which musicians start deliberately attempting to create a sound which is initially painful to listen to due to its dissonance.
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  • 150: Autechre - 6852 - By now the vast majority of people will want to stop listening. The actual dissonance isn't necessarily so high in this piece, but the way that the sound is organised makes it very harsh.
  • 175: Girl Band - - Lawman - The harshness of the sound is extremely high, however it is organised in a manner which still keeps it within the recognisable realms of popular music.
  • 200: Aphex Twin - Ventolin - There's an immediately recognisable melody, but it's extremely harsh.
  • 210: Autechre - Gantz Graf - Pushing the boundaries of what qualifies as music.
  • 225: My Bloody Valentine - You Made Me Realise (Live) - Almost pure white noise. (Note, the studio version of this song would more likely score somewhere around 115)
  • 250: Merzbow - 1930 - Go on. Click on the link. I dare you.

A few notes: First, just because you find Justin Bieber painful to listen to, doesn't mean his music is actually harsh. Secondly, this page is very much a work in progress and could do with some Wiki Magic to get all the formatting in order. Thank You


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