Cluster chords

Anyone who has heard a small child let loose on a keyboard will know exactly what a cluster chord is. Palms, fists, forearms and even shoulders are brought into play to produce a glorious – for the child, at least – cacophony. Sophisticates that we are, we adults tend to look down on this jolly activity; and, after an hour(????) or so (children never seem to tire of it!), when it jars slightly on our oh-so-sensitive ears, the small child is asked (sometimes politely) to desist.

But who could, in their heart of hearts, deny the fun to be had from banging and crashing about on a piano? It’s therapeutic for the performer, and, given a bit of structure and maybe melodic interest, that enjoyment – both therapeutic and aesthetic – can be extended to listeners as well.

This is a cluster chord, and it’s fairly obvious how it got its name:

Of course, much depends on the instruments it’s written for and how loud they’re playing.

A few examples: they range from a distant ‘vast reaches of outer space’ type chorus through strings and two woodwind to an ‘in-your face’ gang of trumpets. I couldn’t resist adding a really serious (all twelve notes of the chromatic scale) cluster at the end.


Go out. Find yourself a piano. Let your inner child free!

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