to·​nal·​i·​ty tō-ˈna-lə-tē How to pronounce tonality (audio)
plural tonalities
: tonal quality
: the organization of all the tones and harmonies of a piece of music in relation to a tonic
: the arrangement or interrelation of the tones of a work of visual art

Examples of tonality in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Changing body posture, breathing patterns, muscle tension, facial expressions, gestures, movements, words and vocal tonality release a surge of chemicals that can change your internal state. Bryan Robinson, Forbes, 11 Feb. 2024 All these people and all these events are smoothly, seamlessly held together by Spielberg’s flawless direction, in which the tonalities are often more eloquent than the dialogue, and where the music (by Jones) is as integral as the action. Arthur Knight, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 Dec. 2023 In the case of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon for Apple/Paramount — about a series of murders that took place in the Osage Nation in the 1920s — that included the tonality of the main characters. Carolyn Giardina, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Dec. 2023 In 1908, Schoenberg premiered the Second String Quartet, his boldest step thus far toward breaking the tethers of tonality—the musical language of major and minor scales and keys that had been around for centuries. Anthony Tommasini, The Atlantic, 27 Nov. 2023 Its tonalities are traditional, and her voice and theirs blended heartily. Paul Elie, The New Yorker, 28 Sep. 2023 Composers have been shifting from atonality to tonality and back for over a hundred years. Christian Hertzog, San Diego Union-Tribune, 14 Nov. 2022 The last movement feels like theme and variations, with that same major-minor feeling of tonality of the first movement, but with the gestures considerably more distorted. Christian Hertzog, San Diego Union-Tribune, 7 Aug. 2023 The tonality is what’s important, the flow is what’s important, the sensibility is what’s important. Lisa Deaderick, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 July 2023 See More

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

Word History


probably borrowed from French tonalité, from tonal tonal + -ité -ity

First Known Use

1838, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of tonality was in 1838

Dictionary Entries Near tonality

Cite this Entry

“Tonality.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


to·​nal·​i·​ty tō-ˈnal-ət-ē How to pronounce tonality (audio)
plural tonalities
: the character of a piece of music based on its key or on the relation of its tones and chords to a particular keynote

More from Merriam-Webster on tonality

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