aton·​al (ˌ)ā-ˈtō-nᵊl How to pronounce atonal (audio)
: 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
atonalism noun
atonalist noun
atonality noun
atonally adverb

Examples of atonal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In their hands that meant addictively atonal patchworks of stretch lace and glimmering knits, slouchy wide-wale cords and big faux-fur coats. Vanessa Friedman, New York Times, 16 Feb. 2024 Only Schoenberg, whose atonal music was forever at odds with convention, remained an outlier. John Adams, The New Yorker, 4 Dec. 2023 Tying everything together is a gripping score by Philip Glass, with Paul Leonard-Morgan, a breathlessly atonal composition that simultaneously is unsettling and puts fans instantly at home in an Errol Morris film. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Sep. 2023 Murky, atonal music swells into collections of chords that resembles human moans. Sara Holdren, Vulture, 19 Sep. 2023 The band’s twangy guitar sounds, droning vocals and loping rhythms mesh perfectly with the often atonal score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and sound designer Ren Klyce’s unsettling soundscape, which features subsonic, insectoid rumbles that may induce Havana Syndrome in some viewers. Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Sep. 2023 When quirkily melodious new wave tried to make punk cute, the Bowery gobbled it all up and puked up atonal filth-art no wave. Jonathan Rowe, Spin, 11 Aug. 2023 There are a lot of atonal, amelodic ways of being in it that were just wholly improvisational and textural. Chris Willman, Variety, 21 June 2023 Too many scenes were undone by an aspiration to be both flimsy and profound: the comedy felt as atonal as the tragedy. Hazlitt, 17 May 2023 See More

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

Word History


a- entry 2 + tonal

First Known Use

1911, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of atonal was in 1911

Dictionary Entries Near atonal

Cite this Entry

“Atonal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


aton·​al (ˈ)ā-ˈtōn-əl How to pronounce atonal (audio)
: being music written without traditional organization based on a scale
atonality noun
atonally adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on atonal

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