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Clusters are your friends ...

posted on #1
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According to Wikipedia:
"A cluster is a set of simultaneous joint notes forming a "cluster sound" more or less dense."

It seems clear that this definition can be considered from many different angles. Due to its composition, such a chord is actually a cluster sound. Indeed, on a staff, a cluster with multiple notes very much looks like a bunch of grapes as the notes composing the chord are "stuck"!

Musicology tells us that a "cluster" is a chord consisting of intervals of seconds, whether major or minor. (A major second is an interval of a whole step while a minor second is an interval of a half step only).

Example: C-D-E-F (separated by an interval of major second and minor second from E to F ) ... played simultaneously, we have a cluster. Similarly, if you play the consecutive notes C-C#-D-D#-E (separated by intervals of minor seconds), you'll also get a cluster.

Given its nature and its sound, the use of this type of chord is rather "sharp". Indeed, the nature of rather dissonant intervals generally confines their use to specific musical situations. They are common in modal Jazz or Fusion but also in some contemporary work from composers such as Pierre Boulez and Xenakis, for example.

Moreover, given the intervals that make up this type of chord and physical constraints associated with each instrument, it is easy to imagine that the playing will be easier on a keyboard than a guitar on which only clusters with a small number notes will be possible (unless, of course, you're the lucky owner of 16 fingers. If this is the case you are blessed and I envy you!).

To make the use of clusters more versatile I generally tend to reduce the chord constitution to only one cluster note in a chord with two or more notes. This also helps make them very guitar friendly.

The cluster note produces a friction which not only enriches the chord but also induces some tension that animates a guitar part, whether it's played in strumming, arpeggios, finger picking ...

A cluster is just like a spice ... I always keep in mind the musical goal of a particular part: the tension level, the desired color ... the more friction and the more you'll get a feeling of discomfort (it could also be a goal)! For a guitar part to remain harmonious but still interesting I will reduce the number of friction to a minimum ... it is a kind of touchy balance that requires lots of trials (and therefore errors) and it will be different from a musician to another!

Each interval type will produce a different tension. Some tend more towards a soft enrichment and others to a kind of hearing Jex buffer ... but ALL of them have an invaluable quality to my ears : originality in the playing!

OKAYYYYYY I'll stop the crap and get to the most interesting part: examples ;) (it is however strongly recommended that you know how to build a chord for a better understanding hehe ... but it's not absolutely required [sigh])
I'll start with soft examples .

A minor 7th chord is composed of 1-3m-5-7 (in C: C-Eb-G-Bb ). If I add a 9th to the chord we get C-Eb-G-Bb-D. I can transpose this 9th one octave lower so the 9th becomes a 2nd (major) and creates a friction with the minor third ... and the chord turns soft as a chickadee nest :) ... In fact, the chord could be called Cm7 (add2) and that works in every key (yay)!

Guitaristic Fingering Examples (all the notes should be heard distinctly):
Em7: [0 2 2 0 3 0]
Em7 (add2): [0 2 4 0 3 0]
Am7: [X 0 2 0 1 0]
Am7 (add2): [X 0 2 4 1 0]

There are also some chords that already include some friction without adding any extension! Major 7th (a major 7th is a half step below the root note) ... the chord can be arranged so the 7M (or 7 +) and the root are consecutive to produce this delicious friction ;-)

CM7: [X 3 2 4 1 0] (very similar chord to Am7 (add2) except the root note because it is a close relative major and vice versa)
EM7: [X 2 X 1 4 0] (the D string should not be played because it would produce a 7- which would further add friction EXCEPT if that's what you're after hehe)

Some other examples a lil bit more challenging and introducing other types of tensions ...
And since i was just speaking of the 7th friction here is an example that will easily illustrate the 7 - AND 7 + attached for a quite effective effect:

C7 (add7 +): [X 3 2 3 0 0]
And if I switch the root to A : [X 0 2 3 0 0] I get an Asus2 (b9) very strange but at the same time very interesting!
On the same friction you can get in E: [0 2 0 3 0 0] E7 (b5 no 3d) beautiful!

flat 5th is very useful in this area!
C9 (b5): [X 3 4 0 3 0]
GM7 (# 11): [3 4 0 0 0 2] (in this example the #11th (b5 an octave lower) clashes with the natural 5th : cozy!)

This is virtually an endless topic because its only limitation is your imagination ... I recommend you try everything that cross your mind including the weirdest stuff! No doubt you will come across useless positions (impossible fingering) but you will also find gems that will change your playing forever ... :)

Don't forget to have fun !!
Edited by OliVBee on August 18 2014 00:40
clusters Clusters CLUSTERS !!!!!!
posted on #2
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Joined: 30.12.10
excellent article my friend!
I must admit I am a bit happy i only ave two fingers and dont have to deal with this, but it indeed is an explanation that makes a lot of sense and even encourages experimenting, which I find most valuable about making music. Brain off, music on! thanks man, this is really great stuff, long live the internet of shared knowledge!!
Edited by Dick on August 06 2014 10:53
posted on #3
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And most important, it's your 100th post :P
posted on #4
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I agree with Olive but allow me to put some other perspective on the subject:
Normal triads do not contain any clusters.
Extended chords can be voiced in clusters by moving the extended notes in octaves. This results in somewhat obscuring the normal resolution which can be used to:
1)Open up for new melodic lines
2)Pave the road for modulations
Pure fingerstyle
posted on #5
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That's a great contribution, OliV! Explained in words not too technical, so they could inspire others to explore and find out that harmony theory can in fact be fun - and can be opening doors to creativity.
posted on #6
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one of my faves, if you put this chord after an emaj7th the song almost writes itself: (Im semi guessing on the name)

Amaj7th#11 [x06640]

That shape can easily be moved up and down for great effect, for instance:

or, using the 3rd and 4th finger, leave the 1st finger free for open string pulloffs on the e and b strings. [x06600][x05500]

Another, pretty sure this is at the beginning of Eric Johnsons "Desert Song" off the Tones album: Im not sure what to call it...it doesnt have a 7th

Amin11add2 ? [x 0 10 9 0 10] Surprisingly this chord can also be moved up and down quite easily

Peace, JJ
posted on #7
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Am11 add2 is exactly what i would call this one myself :)
any form of MAJ7 #11 is scrumptious !! i always think of Blue in Green :)
a nice MAJ7 #11 transposable fingering (here in C) : (X 3 5 4 5 2)
clusters Clusters CLUSTERS !!!!!!
posted on #8
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Got a chance to use these clusters in some songs this past week

http://www.wikiloops.com/backingtrack-jam-23763.php used these three:

Emaj7 (no 3rd) 079800
cmaj7 x35500
Amin9 x05500

then http://www.wikiloops.com/backingtrack-jam-23823.php had this D9add6 which was a really beauty. I dont think Ive ever used that one before

D9add6 x54500
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