[ dahy-uh-ton-ik ]
See synonyms for diatonic on Thesaurus.com
  1. noting those scales that contain five whole tones and two semitones, as the major, minor, and certain modal scales.

  2. of or relating to the tones, intervals, or harmonies of such scales.

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Origin of diatonic

1590–1600; <Late Latin diatonicus<Greek diatonikós;see dia-, tonic

Other words from diatonic

  • di·a·ton·i·cal·ly, adverb
  • un·di·a·ton·ic, adjective
  • un·di·a·ton·i·cal·ly, adverb

Words Nearby diatonic

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use diatonic in a sentence

  • The keyboard had eleven, twelve, even thirteen keys in diatonic succession without semitones.

  • In the diatonic genus, for example, a semitone must be followed by two tones, so as to make up the interval of a Fourth.

    The Modes of Ancient Greek Music | David Binning Monro
  • On the diatonic scale, according to the same writer, the species of an Octave is distinguished by the places of the two semitones.

    The Modes of Ancient Greek Music | David Binning Monro
  • The scholars who connect the ancient Modes with the species generally confine themselves to octaves of the diatonic genus.

    The Modes of Ancient Greek Music | David Binning Monro
  • One was diatonic, of the 'colour' or variety which Ptolemy recognises as the prevailing one, viz.

    The Modes of Ancient Greek Music | David Binning Monro

British Dictionary definitions for diatonic


/ (ˌdaɪəˈtɒnɪk) /

  1. of, relating to, or based upon any scale of five tones and two semitones produced by playing the white keys of a keyboard instrument, esp the natural major or minor scales forming the basis of the key system in Western music: Compare chromatic (def. 2)

  2. not involving the sharpening or flattening of the notes of the major or minor scale nor the use of such notes as modified by accidentals

Origin of diatonic

C16: from Late Latin diatonicus, from Greek diatonikos, from diatonos extending, from diateinein to stretch out, from dia- + teinein to stretch

Derived forms of diatonic

  • diatonically, adverb
  • diatonicism (ˌdaɪəˈtɒnɪˌsɪzəm), noun

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