dia·​ton·​ic ˌdī-ə-ˈtä-nik How to pronounce diatonic (audio)
: of, relating to, or being a musical scale (such as a major or minor scale) comprising intervals of five whole steps and two half steps
diatonically adverb

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Messina is also credited with creating the Interval Study Method, a playing technique using diatonic and chromatic scales. Gary Graff, Billboard, 5 Apr. 2022 Today, the two types of marimba used in Guatemala are the single marimba, with one row of diatonic keys like the white keys of the piano, and the double marimba, which adds a row of chromatic keys (the black keys). Los Angeles Times, 25 June 2021 The musical language is steeped in older modal scales, however crucial passages and final phrases settle into diatonic harmony (major and minor chords), the newer language that was emerging in Schütz’s time. New York Times, 20 Mar. 2020 Elements of atonality and sturdy diatonic harmony and moments of fleeting lyricism and blazing sonorities often merge or clash. New York Times, 23 Sep. 2019 Instead, Gaxiola devotes to the tuba for the bass notes, and in combination with a twelve-fret guitar, a diatonic accordion and drums, the group has become one of the vanguards of the genre. Pamela Bustios, Billboard, 30 Aug. 2019 Others had dreamed up the piano, diatonic tonality, and the 12-bar blues riff. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 28 June 2018 There are musical instruments—like Louisiana’s diatonic accordion. Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian, 16 Mar. 2017 The Coplandesque fields of diatonic harmony in the orchestra are as open as the prairie skies. John Von Rhein, chicagotribune.com, 20 June 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'diatonic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Late Latin diatonicus, borrowed from Greek diatonikós "(of a tetrachord) comprising two steps and a half step," from diátonos "a scale so comprised" (noun use of diátonos, adjective—with génos "type, kind" understood—nominal ablaut derivative of diateínein "to stretch as far as possible, extend," from dia- dia- + teínein "to stretch, extend") + -ikos -ic entry 1 — more at tenant entry 1

First Known Use

1694, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of diatonic was in 1694

Dictionary Entries Near diatonic

Cite this Entry

“Diatonic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diatonic. Accessed 7 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


dia·​ton·​ic ˌdī-ə-ˈtän-ik How to pronounce diatonic (audio)
: relating to or being a standard major or minor scale of eight tones to the octave
diatonically adverb

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