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In music, a tone is distinguished from noise by its definite pitch, caused by the regularity of the vibrations which produce it. Any tone possesses the attributes of pitch, intensity, and quality. Pitch is determined by the frequency of the vibration, measured in cycles per second; intensity (or loudness) is determined by the amplitude, measured in decibels. Quality is determined by the overtones (see harmonicharmonic.
1 Physical term describing the vibration in segments of a sound-producing body (see sound). A string vibrates simultaneously in its whole length and in segments of halves, thirds, fourths, etc.
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), the distinctive timbre of any instrument being the result of the number and relative prominence of the overtones it produces. When two fairly loud tones of equal volume but different pitch are sounded together, a fainter resultant tone, representing either the sum of their two rates of vibration (summation tone) or the difference (difference tone) may be heard. The term whole tone or whole step refers to the intervalinterval,
in music, the difference in pitch between two tones. Intervals may be measured acoustically in terms of their vibration numbers. They are more generally named according to the number of steps they contain in the diatonic scale of the piano; e.g.
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 of a major second or its equivalent; the term half tone, semitone, or half step denotes a minor second (see scalescale,
in music, any series of tones arranged in a step-by-step rising or falling order of pitch. A scale defines the interval relationship of each tone to the others upon which the composition depends.
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in language. (1) A phonologically meaningful melodic variation of a sound’s pitch. A tone is produced by raising or lowering the voice; the resulting level of pitch may remain the same throughout a syllable or may become higher or lower. The number of such levels, or registers, varies from one language to another, but probably does not exceed four: one upper level, two intermediate levels, and one lower level.

A tone whose level remains constant throughout a syllable is called an even tone, and one whose level changes is called a contour tone. Contour tones may be one-directional (rising/falling) or two-directional (rising-falling/falling-rising). For example, in Chinese, (“mother”) has an even tone, nán (“south”) a rising tone, (“to stand”) a falling tone, and hsiěh (“to write”) a falling/rising tone. In some languages, such as Vietnamese, other features also distinguish tones, for example, intensity, length, pharyngealization, and glottal stops.

The character of tones may also depend on the nature of a syllable’s consonants. For example, in Tangut, initial voiceless consonants are combined with high pitch, and voiced consonants with a low pitch. All languages have pitch, or tonal modification of the voice as an element of intonation patterns, but not all languages have tones. In some languages, such as Serbo-Croatian, in which tones may be distinguished only in a stressed syllable, tones are usually regarded as a type of stress. In languages all of whose syllables have tones, tones are also called syllabic accents. Tones form a separate system of suprasegmental units of language; the system has its own paradigmatics and syntagmatics.

Tones also constitute a way of expressing lexical and grammatical meanings; compare, for example, shīh (“to lose”), shíh (“ten”), shìh (“deed”), and shǐh (“history”). In Nuer, a Nilotic language, lèi means “animal” and léi “animals.” In a spoken chain, the difference between tones is based on linear contrasts and not on the absolute physical pitch of a sound. A given tone may have different absolute characteristics in different positions, but it can always be identified by its contrast with other tones and by the morpheme’s paradigmatic unity. The number of tones in the world’s languages ranges from two to ten.

(2) The acoustic characteristics of a sound, determined by the concentration of energy in the sound’s higher and lower frequencies. In phonetics this concept is expressed by the term “tonality” rather than “tone.” Sounds may have high or low tonality; for example, in terms of the average frequency of the F2 formant, the Russian vowels u, o, and a have low tonality, whereas e and i have high tonality. In phonology, tonality is one of the universal distinctive phonemic features constituting the system of linguistic features formulated by R. O. Jakobson and M. Halle.


Zinder, L. R. Obshchaia fonetika. Leningrad, 1960.
Fant, A. Akusticheskaia teoriia recheobrazovaniia. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Pike, K. L. Tone Languages, 5th ed. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1961.
Wang, S.-J. “Phonological Features of Tone.” International journal of American Linguistics, 1967, vol. 33, no. 2, part 1.
Welmers, W. E. African Language Structures. Berkeley–Los Angeles–London, 1973.




in music:

(1) A sound having a specific pitch; a musical sound. A tone may be either a pure sinusoidal vibration at a given frequency (pure tone), or it may contain several constituent frequencies.

(2) A whole tone, whether expressed as one-sixth of an octave, a major second, a diminished third, or a double augmented prime.




a river in Japan, on the island of Honshu. The Tone measures 322 km in length and drains an area of 15,760 sq km. Its sources are in the Echigo Mountains. The river irrigates the Kwanto Plain and flows into the Pacific Ocean. The Edo River, a branch of the Tone, flows into Tokyo Bay at Tokyo.

The mean flow rate in the lower course is approximately 180 cu m per sec, and the maximum flow rate is more than 500 cu m per sec. There are freshets in summer. The Tone is used for irrigation and as a water source. It is navigable as far as the city of Koga. The large fishing port of Choshi is situated at the Tone’s mouth.


A sound oscillation capable of exciting an auditory sensation having pitch.
An auditory sensation having pitch.
(graphic arts)
Each distinguishable shade variation from black to white on photographs.


1. US and Canadian another word for note
2. (in acoustic analysis) a sound resulting from periodic or regular vibrations, composed either of a simple sinusoidal waveform (pure tone) or of several such waveforms superimposed upon one main one (compound tone)
3. an interval of a major second; whole tone
4. any of several plainsong melodies or other chants used in the singing of psalms
5. the quality of a given colour, as modified by mixture with white or black; shade; tint
6. Physiol
a. the normal tension of a muscle at rest
b. the natural firmness of the tissues and normal functioning of bodily organs in health
7. the overall effect of the colour values and gradations of light and dark in a picture
8. Photog a colour or shade of colour, including black or grey, of a particular area on a negative or positive that can be distinguished from surrounding lighter or darker areas


References in periodicals archive ?
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were fed up with hearing the foul language drifting from the side lines and pitch of the nearby ground at London Road, Maidstone, so they asked their tenants, Maidstone United, to tone down their language.
And Stern certainly doesn't tone down his act in print.
Republican pollsters are warning clients this year that they will have to tone down their rhetoric on such issues as abortion, the environment, and education if they want to hold on to suburban voters, maintain their congressional majority, and win the White House.
In the April/May 1993 issue of Garbage, Bill Breen does little to tone down the rhetoric.
Heckman says that the APA would like to see the NFPA and others that frown upon consumer fireworks use, to tone down the anti-fireworks campaign and turn up the safety message.
Summary: President Michel Sleiman met separately Friday with MPs Sami Gemayel and Nawwaf Musawi, and stressed the need to tone down political rhetoric.
Samantha called Lohan and begged her to tone down her wild ways and seek help.
SCOTS actress Kathleen McDermott says she's had to tone down her accent for the new Irvine Welsh film Wedding Belles.
He said he's trying to tone down his booming baritone - which works well for political speeches - to let Lincoln's words speak for themselves.
You may need to tone down the sea of regal red tones in front of the See of Peter should this last vestige of aristocracy once again appear unaltered at the altar.
While some critics charge that the media-watchdog group caved in to Paramount by failing to demand that the company dump the antigay gabfest, which is scheduled to debut this fall, others say it flirted with censorship by demanding that Paramount tone down the host's fiery antigay rhetoric.
Then they noted how much they had to tone down the laser before the organelles started moving again, figuring that the minimum amount of force needed to keep the organelles stationary must equal the force of the motor system itself.