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A tone cluster is a musical chord comprising at least three adjacent tones in a scale.
Prototypical tone clusters are based on the chromatic scale and are separated by semitones.
Composers such as Béla Bartók and, later, Lou Harrison and Karlheinz Stockhausen became proponents of the tone cluster, which feature in the work of many 20th- and 21st-century classical composers.
Tone clusters play a significant role, as well, in the work of free jazz musicians such as Cecil Taylor and Matthew Shipp.
Prototypical tone clusters are chords of three or more adjacent notes on a chromatic scale, that is, three or more adjacent pitches each separated by only a semitone.
Each of the sixteen parts enters separately, humming a note one semitone lower than the note hummed by the previous part, until all sixteen are contributing to the cluster.On the piano, such clusters often involve the simultaneous striking of neighboring white or black keys.The early years of the twentieth century saw tone clusters elevated to central roles in pioneering works by ragtime artists Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin.Keyboard instruments are particularly suited to the performance of tone clusters because it is relatively easy to play multiple notes in unison on them.
The modern keyboard is designed for playing a diatonic scale on the white keys and a pentatonic scale on the black keys. Three immediately adjacent keys produce a basic chromatic tone cluster.
The second is a pentatonic (so-called black-note) cluster, indicated by the flat sign; a sharp sign would be required if the notes showing the limit of the cluster were spelled as sharps.