Suppose that there was a culture that naturally developed a musical system/tradition that us western Earth people would call a "loose" interpretation of dodecaphony or 12-tone music (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-tone_technique.)

What I mean by "loose" is that this culture just thinks of a tone row's matrix (http://www.carolingianrealm.info/Music.php?MusicID=29) as 2-dimensional scale, and don't impose further onto it. For example, they wouldn't have a rule about not playing the same note until all other 11 have been played.

Now that I've defined how their music works, what would their 'go-to' instrument look like?

For example, I was thinking maybe something like the autoharp (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoharp), but instead of the buttons being used for chords, you could have a button for each note in the matrix, with some way to configure it for different matrices?

  • $\begingroup$ Many musical instruments can play chromatic scales: pianos, violins, guitars, organs, harps, most modern (as in, Mozart or later) wind instruments etc. etc. What else is needed? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ Dodecaphonic music is special because it has special rules regarding tonal sequence. No primitive instrument knows about tonal sequence and it would not be able to make any restrictions on player. We need an instrument with complexity level at least like mechanical piano to be able to coordinate the sequence of notes and/or chords. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you think it would look any different than what we have now? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ What an odd question. Why would there even be a "go to instrument"? Do people that play 12-tone music gravitate towards any particular instruments in real life? If yes', then those instruments are your answer. If 'no', then that is your answer: they have no go-to instrument. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ Most likely religious reasons, no longer any skill required to make music, more of an ritualistic nature than entertainment - that's what I read from that question. So I'd go with some sort of metallophone or series of bells and gongs $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 7:44

2 Answers 2


Perhaps an electronic synthesiser with a Jankó type (or even more evolved) keyboard would fit the bill?

With an electronic instrument, I would hazard the guess that software might allow a composer and performer to program presets with different matrices?


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    $\begingroup$ I think the OP was thinking more along the lines of more primitive instruments. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, it's hard for something to be a go-to instrument if you have to find an outlet everytime you want to play it ;) $\endgroup$
    – Eriek
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ If you're just looking for an acoustic instrument, then an ordinary Janko piano might work well. Or a standard piano. Or a violin or clarinet. Any of those can do exactly what you're looking for! I just figured that since you were looking for something programmable, you were more interested in something more "modern" or technological in nature. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 2:36

If you want such a 2D arrangement you are implying the 2D arrangement has some meaning, so your culture's music system has to have some rules to make that necessary.

Otherwise the only idea I have would be an instrument that exists to play all possible intervals, so each point of your matrix represents the interval between the two notes. That also includes perfect unison and therefore the possibility to play one note at a time.

That would mean the instrument needs to be fairly complex. I can think of a two-dimensional hurdy-gurdy which has two wheels and pressing and button on the matrix simultaneously pushes two different strings against the wheels.

Same principle could be used to play all kind of instruments that can be normally played by pressing buttons that do something to create a sound, pianos, cembalos, organs, accordions.

It's probably more difficult to play those instruments like that instead of how they're normally played, but why not?


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