clusters of pitches
Some the coolest things imaginable sometimes come in the smallest package right? Check out the following line. Yikes ... look at all the black dots! Example 1.
Not too shabby for just a couple of pitches huh? We can create both melodic and harmonic clusters. Melodic ideas first o.k? Go to chords.
So just what is a cluster? Well, melodically, a cluster is usually a smaller group of the same pitches that are simply repeated a number of times, often many times, and articulated at a rapid rate. We hear these gems in all of the styles of American music where improvisational sections are included. So often used to climax a solo, creating melodic clusters of pitches can oftentimes bring tremendous excitement to the music. Once a cluster starts to spin, they're almost gyroscopic momentum is oftentimes a real force to reckon with, much to the delight of players, listeners and dancers alike. Creating and harnessing this force is the challenge and way fun for players at all levels. Of course the trick is fitting them into the music... and developing the technique to play them.
What's to follow? In the following ideas, we simply examine some of the more popular American melodic colors, which provide the pitches for the creation of our melodic ideas, here shaped into clusters of pitches. This first idea comes from the minor pentatonic color. Example 2.
Thinking major pentatonic creates some joyous clusters. Example 3.
Here we pair two clusters of pitches creating an arpeggiated cluster. Common modern motion from A Dorian and Ab Lydian. Example 4.
Adding a tritone to minor pentatonic color creating a cliche blues cluster. Example 5.
Adding a tritone to major pentatonic color creating a polytonal cluster. Example 6.
Focusing in on the 9th in the minor tonality. Example 7.
Focusing in on the 9th in the major tonality. Example 8.
Here we see the power of one pitch played rapidly. Also the idea that 3 episodes of the same cluster ended by a variation can be effective. This trick of playing just the one pitch is about as basic yet wonderfully effective as it gets eh? Everyone does it, have you tried it?
So, with 3 episodes, how different are clusters from sequences? Isn't repeating an idea 3 times and moving on to it's next development one of the golden rules?
Triads are very popular in creating clusters, and with the major / relative minor dichotomy, they are fun to mix and match while creating clusters. Example 9.
Clusters of triads, clusters of triads, clusters of triads, moving clusters of triads ... jazz mantra
Triads are fun to move around. Major triads going towards minor triads. Example 10.
Minor go towards major. Example 11.
Non diatonic symmetrical clusters are possible. Here we invoke the whole tone program. Example 12.
Here we move a diminished cluster by it's minor 3rd interval. Example 13.
What about moving a diminished cluster by it's whole step / half step interval configuration? Of course, we do it all here. Example 14.
What about chords? With the harmony, we often find clusters of pitches creating exciting and exotic colors. Modeled after the big band way of doing things with it's full compliment of saxes, trombones and trumpets, all of today's chordal players can benefit from these groupings. The trick is to be able to play them, especially for guitar players, as the standard tuning of the instrument can wreak havoc on getting some of the cool, commonly used piano type chordal clusters under the fingers. Thinking by chord type, here are a few chordal clusters of color.
Thinking tonic harmony in the major tonality. Example 15.
|1, 2, 3||6, 9||6 / 7 / 9||6 / 7 / 9 / #11|
Thinking tonic harmony in the minor tonality. Example 16.
|1, 2, 3||7, 9||7 / 11||6 / 9 / 11|
Thinking dominant harmony. Example 17.
|1, 2, 3||9, # 11 / 13||b5 / b9||# 5 / # 9|
Pretty dissonant eh? When pitches get tucked in close together they sound a bit disharmonious, perhaps even more so in this digital format. In advanced playing situations, these dissonant colors are the ones chosen to create the dominant tensions. If available, have four trumpets sound out the pitches etc. So, have a better sense of what musical clusters might be about? Do you already create these licks in your playing? Maybe add the idea to your listening and look for cluster in the music you love. Are there clusters in folk music? I think so, it's called yodeling right? Comments, questions?
"Where words fail, music speaks." Hans Christian Andersen