This is an introduction to Cell Notation. Cell Notation is a shorthand notational system used to describe statndard and non-standard melodic and harmonic structures and voicings more completely. The term “cell” is used here to mean a small tone grouping (generally a two to five tone structure) which can be used as a separate entity or used as a base to build more complex structures. The advantage of this system is that it can describe tone stuctures completely, showing exact voicings of even non-standard groupings (which compose a large part of any creative musical language) as well as being an easier system to use (once learned). The following are some examples using cell notation.
In the first example the “G#” represents the note on the bottom of the cell, the 1+ is the note “A” above it (the + stands for 1 octave up) and the line (above the G#) shows the end of that particular cell. The next cell (on top of the “G#” and “A”) describes the structure “E-F-A-Bb” (spelled from the bottom up). This is an example of a composite cell, combining two cells as done with polychords in tradtional notation. In this way almost any structure can be described.
The second example is a cell with moving inner voices. The “B” and “D#” progress symmetrically to “Bb” and “E” while the outer notes are sustained. The slashes show the duration of the moving pitches.
When traditional notation is used mixed with cell notation then brackets are recommended (surrounding the traditional notation). Otherwise some traditional chord symbols might be mistaken for cells. In the next example the “C” dominant 9th chord might be mistaken for the diad “C-A” (if not for the brackets). The true cell notation is written on the right.
The “Eb” represents the tone which the numbers reference (the bottom note but not necessarily the “root”).
The “5” and the “9” tell you how many simitones above the reference tone these next two tones in the cell are.
The “2+” also shows the number of simitones above the reference tone (“Eb”) but the “+” indicates that the tone is to be placed in the next octave above the reference tone. “++” would have indicated two octaves above.
The “A” represents the tone which the numbers reference (the bottom note but not necessarily the “root”).
The “3” tells you how many simitones above the reference tone the next tone in the cell is.
The “3” also shows the number of simtones above the reference tone (“A”).