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[dahy-uh-ton-ik] /ˌdaɪ əˈtɒn ɪk/
adjective, Music.
noting those scales that contain five whole tones and two semitones, as the major, minor, and certain modal scales.
of or relating to the tones, intervals, or harmonies of such scales.
1590-1600; < Late Latin diatonicus < Greek diatonikós; see dia-, tonic
Related forms
diatonically, adverb
undiatonic, adjective
undiatonically, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for diatonic
  • The student will sing a varied repertoire of songs, with emphasis on diatonic melodies.
  • It seems that the dulcimer has been taken now beyond its limitations, beyond its diatonic scale.
  • The plain chant is necessarily a diatonic unison melody.
British Dictionary definitions for diatonic


of, relating to, or based upon any scale of five tones and two semitones produced by playing the white keys of a keyboard instrument, esp the natural major or minor scales forming the basis of the key system in Western music Compare chromatic (sense 2)
not involving the sharpening or flattening of the notes of the major or minor scale nor the use of such notes as modified by accidentals
Derived Forms
diatonically, adverb
diatonicism (ˌdaɪəˈtɒnɪˌsɪzəm) noun
Word Origin
C16: from Late Latin diatonicus, from Greek diatonikos, from diatonos extending, from diateinein to stretch out, from dia- + teinein to stretch
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for diatonic

c.1600, from French diatonique, from Latin diatonicus, from Greek diatonikos, from diatonos "extending; pertaining to the diatonic scale," from dia- (see dia-) + teinein "to stretch" (see tenet).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for diatonic

diatonic scale

in music, any stepwise arrangement of the seven "natural" pitches (scale degrees) forming an octave without altering the established pattern of a key or mode-in particular, the major and natural minor scales. Some scales, including pentatonic and whole-tone scales, are not diatonic because they do not include the seven degrees.

Learn more about diatonic scale with a free trial on
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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