Definition of diatonic in US English:



  • 1(of a scale, interval, etc.) involving only notes proper to the prevailing key without chromatic alteration.

    • ‘As Hanon's The Virtuoso Pianist exercises strengthen the fingers through varying linear progressions, Jazz Chord Hanon moves sequentially through diatonic and chromatic scales and progressions from three through five voices.’
    • ‘In music, India gave to the world her system of notation, with the seven cardinal notes and the diatonic scale, all of which we enjoyed as early as 350 B.C., while it came to Europe only in the eleventh century.’
    • ‘Like the diatonic scale, it may begin on any degree.’
    • ‘The fingering indicated is performed easily by a student with modest hand size and capitalizes on diatonic scale patterns.’
    • ‘Harmonically, the added notes are needed to provide a major or minor triad for each note of the diatonic scale.’
    1. 1.1 (of a melody or harmony) constructed from a diatonic scale.
      • ‘There is dissonance, beautiful dissonance, mixed with more diatonic harmony.’
      • ‘One of the weaknesses of much pre-Classic music is the prevalence of bland diatonic harmony.’
      • ‘There is little dramatic impulse, but, especially when sung in German, the solo music is reminiscent of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in its simple direct melody and clear diatonic harmony.’
      • ‘Over two massive sections - with the second encompassing an evocative slow movement and a dramatic finale - the argument is based on two contrasted motifs that, with satisfying logic, resolve at the end in a warmly diatonic melody.’


Early 17th century (denoting a tetrachord divided into two tones and a lower semitone, or ancient Greek music based on this): from French diatonique, or via late Latin from Greek diatonikos ‘at intervals of a tone’, from dia ‘through’ + tonos ‘tone’.