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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.

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.

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.

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.In tone clusters, the notes are sounded fully and in unison, distinguishing them from ornamented figures involving acciaccaturas and the like.Their effect also tends to be different: where ornamentation is used to draw attention to the harmony or the relationship between harmony and melody, tone clusters are for the most part employed as independent sounds.In Western musical traditions, pentatonic scales—conventionally played on the black keys—are built entirely from intervals larger than a semitone.

Commentators thus tend to identify diatonic and pentatonic stacks as "tone clusters" only when they consist of four or more successive notes in the scale.

The earliest example of tone clusters in a Western music composition thus far identified is in the Allegro movement of Heinrich Biber's Battalia à 10 (1673) for string ensemble, which calls for several diatonic clusters.