Nearby words

  1. tunbridge ware,
  2. tunbridge wells,
  3. tundish,
  4. tundra,
  5. tundra swan,
  6. tune in,
  7. tune out,
  8. tune up,
  9. tune, tommy,
  10. tune-up


Origin of tune

1350–1400; Middle English (noun); unexplained variant of tone

Related forms Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for call the tune



a melody, esp one for which harmony is not essential
the most important part in a musical texturethe cello has the tune at that point
the condition of producing accurately pitched notes, intervals, etc (esp in the phrases in tune, out of tune)he can't sing in tune
accurate correspondence of pitch and intonation between instruments (esp in the phrases in tune, out of tune)the violin is not in tune with the piano
the correct adjustment of a radio, television, or some other electronic circuit with respect to the required frequency (esp in the phrases in tune, out of tune)
a frame of mind; disposition or mood
obsolete a musical sound; note
call the tune to be in control of the proceedings
change one's tune, sing another tune or sing another a different tune to alter one's attitude or tone of speech
to the tune of informal to the amount or extent ofcosts to the tune of a hundred pounds


to adjust (a musical instrument or a changeable part of one) to a certain pitch
to adjust (a note, etc) so as to bring it into harmony or concord
(tr) to adapt or adjust (oneself); attuneto tune oneself to a slower life
(tr often foll by up) to make fine adjustments to (an engine, machine, etc) to obtain optimum performance
electronics to adjust (one or more circuits) for resonance at a desired frequency
obsolete to utter (something) musically or in the form of a melody; sing
tune someone grief Southern African slang to annoy or harass someone

Word Origin for tune

C14: variant of tone

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for call the tune
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Culture definitions for call the tune

call the tune

To be in control. The phrase comes from the proverbThe one who pays the piper calls the tune.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with call the tune

call the tune

Make important decisions, exercise authority, as in Nancy said that it's her turn to call the tune. The full term is Who pays the piper calls the tune, meaning whoever bears the cost of an enterprise should have authority over it. [Late 1800s] Also see the synonym call the shots.


In addition to the idioms beginning with tune

  • tune in
  • tune out
  • tune up

also see:

  • call the tune
  • carry a tune
  • change one's tune
  • dance to another tune
  • in tune
  • to the tune of
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.