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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.
However, these stacks involve intervals between notes greater than the half-tone gaps of the chromatic kind.
This can readily be seen on a keyboard, where the pitch of each key is separated from the next by one semitone (visualizing the black keys as extending to the edge of the keyboard): Diatonic scales—conventionally played on the white keys—contain only two semitone intervals; the rest are full tones.
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.
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.Blends them together and explains them to the ear." Tone clusters thus also lend themselves to use in a percussive manner.Historically, they were sometimes discussed with a hint of disdain.The performance of keyboard tone clusters is widely considered an "extended technique"—large clusters require unusual playing methods often involving the fist, the flat of the hand, or the forearm.Thelonious Monk and Karlheinz Stockhausen each performed clusters with their elbows; Stockhausen developed a method for playing cluster glissandi with special gloves.