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In music, serialism is a method or technique of composition (Griffiths 2001, 116) that uses a series of values to manipulate different musical elements. Serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, though his contemporaries were also working to establish serialism as one example of post-tonal thinking (Whittall 2008, 1). Twelve-tone technique orders the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, forming a row or series and providing a unifying basis for a composition's melody, harmony, structural progressions, and variations. Other types of serialism also work with sets, collections of objects, but not necessarily with fixed-order series, and extend the technique to other musical dimensions (often called "parameters"), such as duration, dynamics, and timbre. The idea of serialism is also applied in various ways in the visual arts, design, and architecture (Bandur 2001, 5, 12, 74; Gerstner 1964, passim). The musical use of the word "series" should not be confused with the mathematical term "series."

Integral serialism or total serialism is the use of series for aspects such as duration, dynamics, and register as well as pitch (Whittall 2008, 273). Other terms, used especially in Europe to distinguish post–World War II serial music from twelve-tone music and its American extensions, are general serialism and multiple serialism (Grant 2001, 5–6).

Composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, Milton Babbitt and Jean Barraqué, used serial techniques of one sort or another in most of their music. Other composers such as Béla Bartók, Luciano Berio, Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, Olivier Messiaen, Arvo Pärt, Walter Piston, Alfred Schnittke, Dmitri Shostakovich, Igor Stravinsky, and even some jazz composers such as Yusef Lateef and Bill Evans, used serialism only for some of their compositions or only for some sections of pieces. Richard Yardumian used a unique variation of the 12-tone scale.[vague][citation needed]


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