I'm working on a piano part where the player needs to slam their fingers on the keyboard in semi-specific regions to create random cluster-like chords. What do you think would be the best way to notate it? Should I write the exact chords played in the MIDI recording I'm transcribing (maybe with X noteheads)? Or should it be like the standard cluster notation (MuseScore's notation is bad and hardly implemented, this is only a mockup):

Cluster chords MuseScore

  • This does make me wonder if anyone ever tried to score the opening of David Bowies's Let's Spend the Night Together ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 22, 2022 at 15:46
  • 2
    I think this is important: Do you want the players to slam black keys, white keys, or both?
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 22, 2022 at 16:09
  • @Dekkadeci I want the player to slam both keys, but to do this using their fingers and not forearms/hands. The player isn't supposed to hit every key in the region, but rather play a random 10-12 note "chord".
    – GreatCorn
    Jun 22, 2022 at 20:56

1 Answer 1


The top and bottom notes - which define the extent of the cluster - are usually shown more distinctly than in your mock-up. Black-note clusters are shown by a sharp or flat-sign; white-note ones by a natural-sign.

You mention 'semi-specific regions'. You could simply show the approximate register and approximate extent of each cluster and write "A piacere" or "libero".

But whether the notes are black or white makes a huge difference and should surely be indicated. You wouldn't want the performer banging away on just black notes: it would sound like a child playing.

Mixtures of black and white are simple: one hand or arm plays the white notes and the other the black notes.

Have you looked at Henry Cowell's music? This page has some useful stuff about his cluster-notation.

If it's for live performance remember to wear long sleeves. Some pianists wear gloves. For larger clusters you may need lengths of wood, which should be wrapped with something soft to protect the keys.

  • This (Henry Cowell's) notation is recommended by Elaine Gould in Behind Bars, page 326.
    – Aaron
    Jun 22, 2022 at 18:27
  • Thank you for your answer! I don't intend for the player to play every single note in the specified region, just wherever their fingers land naturally. The sound is supposed to be cacophonic, but not too dirty. Thanks for the link, I now understand the proper notation and "a piacere" & "libero" is something I definitely had in mind, but couldn't remember exactly.
    – GreatCorn
    Jun 22, 2022 at 20:54
  • @Aaron: Wow. If it has examples from all the composers she's worked with that book must be fascinating. Jun 22, 2022 at 23:00
  • @GreatCorn: My fingers wouldn't naturally land pointing up and down the keyboard, but you might get lucky! :-) I suppose you could just indicate the approximate middle of each cluster and get the player to slap at that. Jun 22, 2022 at 23:03
  • I like the idea of marking the middle. I would write them as ghost notes with a small description at the beginning to describe what they mean
    – Nigel
    Jun 22, 2022 at 23:22

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