aton·​al | \ (ˌ)ā-ˈtō-nᵊl How to pronounce atonal (audio) , (ˌ)a- \

Definition of atonal

: marked by avoidance of traditional musical tonality especially : organized without reference to key or tonal center and using the tones of the chromatic scale impartially

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from atonal

atonalism \ (ˌ)ā-​ˈtō-​nə-​ˌli-​zəm How to pronounce atonalism (audio) , (ˌ)a-​ \ noun
atonalist \ (ˌ)ā-​ˈtō-​nə-​list How to pronounce atonalist (audio) , (ˌ)a-​ \ noun
atonality \ ˌā-​tō-​ˈna-​lə-​tē How to pronounce atonality (audio) , ˌa-​ \ noun
atonally \ (ˌ)ā-​ˈtō-​nə-​lē How to pronounce atonally (audio) , (ˌ)a-​ \ adverb

Examples of atonal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Also crucial is Murphy's particular knack for using music and color to convey the hothouse longings of her characters; heady metaphors served in the atonal jangle of post punk or the throbbing kaleidoscope of strobe lights at a house party. Leah Greenblatt,, "Australian indie Babyteeth breathes life into terminal illness and teen romance: Review," 17 June 2020 This is part of a broader crisis facing modern (in the non-technical sense), atonal music: A group of styles originally designed to smash conventions and, so it was promised, free up artists have become rigidly conventional. Nicholas M. Gallagher, National Review, "The Vietnam War at the Kentucky Opera," 23 Nov. 2019 There are odd pauses, atonal noises, and the hosts have a question-and-answer patter going that invariably results in a not-quite-credible exclamation, providing clear signposts for the listener to heed a particular moment of revelation. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "The Other Latif and the Radiolab Problem," 26 Mar. 2020 Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s orchestral score is mostly familiar stuff, except for an entrancing atonal piece midway through the movie that offers a glimpse of a more daring and experimental take on the material. Boyd Van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Persian Lessons': Film Review | Berlin 2020," 4 Mar. 2020 In this 1970 piece, set to the insistent rhythms and atonal lyricism of Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1, the dancers move with a deeply rooted, grounded quality that feels very much of its time. Roslyn Sulcas, New York Times, "For a Los Angeles Dance Festival, Reviving a Homegrown Modernist," 7 Nov. 2019 One is a grand space opera, with catchy Wagnerian leitmotifs and blaring immensity; the other is atonal and elusive, full of amorphous sound that rarely coalesces into melody. Joshua Barone, New York Times, "‘Psycho’ and ‘Close Encounters’ Roll at the Philharmonic," 10 Sep. 2019 Moreover, the modern music, with its staccato percussion, jarring shifts, and atonal chords (conducted by Steven Crawford), is perfectly suited to underlie this feeling of unease and disorientation. Nicholas M. Gallagher, National Review, "The Vietnam War at the Kentucky Opera," 23 Nov. 2019 First came a short atonal improvisation, just because, Lang explained. Los Angeles Times, "Commentary: L.A. needs a summer music festival. Piano Spheres and Monday Evening Concerts show the way," 30 July 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'atonal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of atonal

1911, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for atonal

a- entry 2 + tonal

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about atonal

Time Traveler for atonal

Time Traveler

The first known use of atonal was in 1911

See more words from the same year

Statistics for atonal

Last Updated

21 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Atonal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for atonal


How to pronounce atonal (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of atonal

music : not written, played, or sung in a particular key

More from Merriam-Webster on atonal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for atonal

Comments on atonal

What made you want to look up atonal? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A More Exception(al) Quiz

  • hot dog  hot dog  hot dog  hot dog cat
  • Which of the following words is not a synonym for ‘a young person’?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!