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 \ -​nə-​ˌli-​zəm How to pronounce atonalism (audio) \ noun
atonalist \ -​list How to pronounce atonalist (audio) \ 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

The author jumps from one abstruse analysis to another, each chapter ending like a piece of atonal music, with no resolution or sense of closure. Barton Swaim, WSJ, "Politics: The Government We ‘Like’," 22 Feb. 2019 Mica Levi’s creaky, often atonal score is categorically sickening. Verge Staff, The Verge, "Smart scares for smart people," 31 Oct. 2018 The collection’s other works are atonal and process-driven. Allan Kozinn, WSJ, "Romantic Lushness Meets Post-Tonal Grittiness," 30 May 2018 Who would think to blend a Carrollian poem about crustaceans with atonal caterwauling, piercing Farfisa organ stabs, vintage Jersey Shore suntan lotion slogans, and a seriously raunchy riff played on a four-stringed guitar? Jordan Runtagh,, "The B-52s at 40: An Oral History of Their Awesomely Bizarre Beach Party Breakthrough 'Rock Lobster'," 29 May 2018 Avant-garde developments on the European continent — in particular, the atonal expressionism of Arnold Schoenberg and, especially, Schoenberg’s student Alban Berg — had made the young Britten eager to explore similar chromaticism in his own work. Matthew Guerrieri,, "A gift from Benjamin Britten’s teacher," 29 Mar. 2018 Charles Wuorinen’s operatic version of Annie Proulx’s modern classic novella, is brooding, atonal, noble. The New York Times, New York Times, "22 Musicals, Plays, Concerts, Dances and Festivals You Can’t Miss This Spring," 20 Feb. 2018 Some have compared Benjamin’s music to an atonal Pelléas et Mélisande. David Patrick Stearns,, "Opera Philadelphia's 'Written on Skin' is a new take on a not-so-old opera," 10 Feb. 2018 The second act, producer Fire-Toolz, presented herself as a demon in a pink dress, jamming out on a red electric guitar and screaming into a voice-distorting microphone to a constantly shifting — and frequently atonal — musical accompaniment. Zach Freeman,, "What did I just see? Sarah Squirm tops a long, strange, funny night at Empty Bottle," 13 Feb. 2018

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

Statistics for atonal

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for atonal

The first known use of atonal was in 1911

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for atonal



English Language Learners Definition of atonal

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

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).


a small bunch of flowers

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


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!