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1. 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
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



a seven-tone system, all of whose tones can be located in perfect fifths. The medieval modes and natural modes, including the common Ionian mode (natural major) and Aeolian mode (natural minor), are all strictly diatonic.

Modes and modal formations that may be treated as a part of the diatonic scale—the pentatonic system, the medieval hexachords, and a number of tetrachords and trichords—are also diatonic. All such modes consist only of whole tones and semitones. Any intervals or chords that can be formed from the tones of diatonic modes are also considered diatonic.

The diatonic system is the foundation of European modal folk and professional music. In a wider sense, any modes that do not include chromatics (the raising or lowering of the basic tones of the scale) are categorized diatonic. There are both conventional diatonic modes (the harmonic and melodic minor and major) and modified diatonic modes. In several of these modes there are augmented seconds, as well as whole tones and semitones.

Nondiatonic elements are formed not only by the use of chromaticism but also by mixing various diatonic elements simultaneously and sequentially (polydiatonics). The modal harmonic work of contemporary composers is often polydiatonic.


Katuar, G. L. Teoreticheskii kurs garmonii, part 1. Moscow, 1924.
Sokhor, A. “O prirode i vyrazitel’nykh vozmozhnostiakh diatoniki.” In the collection Voprosy teorii i estetiki muzyki, fasc. 4. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Tiulin, Iu. N. Uchenie o garmonii, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1966.
Pereverzev, N. Problemy muzykal’nogo intonirovaniia. Moscow, 1966.
Sposobin, I. V. Lektsii po kursu garmonii. Moscow, 1969.
Berkov, V. O. Garmoniia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1970.
Vincent, J. The Diatonic Modes in Modern Music. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1951.
References in periodicals archive ?
Ligeti, with his talk of 'non-diatonic diatonicism' and the like could never have been a permanent recruit to the world of the avant-garde, with its innate hostility to thematicism and traditional genres.
The suave diatonicism and smoothly flowing lower parts lend it a tranquil air.
According to Harper-Scott, in both the First Symphony and Falstaff, diatonicism fails to overcome the challenge of chromaticism.
With his most advanced compositional praxis, Wagner seeks to mitigate the long-standing dichotomy in his work -- fanfarelike diatonicism versus yearning chromaticism -- by banishing chromaticism to hell: the Tristan chord, in the low registers of the woodwinds, now symbolizes Klingsor's realm, and diatonicism is meanwhile alienated and darkened by means of modal chord combinations and striking secondary scale-degrees in the minor.
Octatonic subsets and diatonic modes appear on the surface; at a deeper level, the fifth, the key interval of diatonicism, competes with the tritone, the key partitioning interval of the octatonic collection.
T[ddot{u}][ddot{u}]r presents a stark juxtaposition and occasional interweaving of these elements, but a t onal character usually predominates because the serial material consists of rapid filigree passage-work that rarely undermines the prevailing diatonicism of the evolving string line.
There is an undeniable charm about so many o f the pieces in this volume--a certain playfulness in the frequent shifts between virtuosity and declamation, duple and triple meter, chromaticism and diatonicism that reflects the tongue-incheek quality in so much of the poetry.
Neither facile judgment can stand up to Daverio's careful identification of many compelling and visionary aspects of these pieces, including a kind of extended tonality (using diatonicism rather than chromaticism) in the first.
Also in these two final chapters Banfield addresses the dramatic possibilities of chromaticism and diatonicism and concludes with "the fact" that these contrasting "musical worlds are differentiated more metaphysically in Into the Woods than in Sondheim's earlier scores" (p.