Definition of tonal in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈtōnl/


1Relating to the tone of music, color, or writing: his ear for tonal color the poem’s tonal lapses
More example sentences
  • The gorgeous tonal colors of this music have rarely glistened so brightly!
  • She manages beautifully subtle shifts in tempo without crossing over into the soupy, and she applies a large palette of tonal color tastefully.
  • The Schubert was likewise a weaving of wonderful tonal colors and pianistic power.
1.1Relating to music written using conventional keys and harmony.
Example sentences
  • This makes it difficult for contemporary composers to write interesting new tonal music without evoking a film score of some sort.
  • This process could not go on indefinitely, and in 1908 Schoenberg made the break into atonality, abandoning the attempt to fit atonal harmonies into tonal forms.
  • Add to that the fact that I love Massenet because his music is tonal and well harmonised, and you have some idea of my style.
1.2 Phonetics (Of a language) expressing semantic differences by varying the intonation given to words or syllables of a similar sound.
Example sentences
  • Chinese is a tonal language: words are differentiated not just by sounds but by whether the intonation is rising or falling.
  • The point of a talking drum is to make noises which sound like words spoken in a tonal language - like Yoruba.
  • Also, Chinese is a tonal language, which means that words change meaning depending on whether they're said with a rising tone, falling tone, falling then rising, or flat.



Pronunciation: /ˈtōnəlē/
Example sentences
  • This is an aspect that sometimes I miss in Mahler performances and it matters greatly, because Mahler's music is sometimes tonally anchored and sometimes tonally disorientated.
  • The Reeve, the Shipman, and the Merchant's Tales are in a similar vein, although tonally they are all quite different.
  • I've always been frustrated by the ending we saw in the cinema, which strikes me as tonally appropriate, but utterly unconvincing.


Late 18th century (designating church music in plainsong mode): from medieval Latin tonalis, from Latin tonus (see tone).

Words that rhyme with tonal

atonal, Donal, hormonal, Monel, patronal, polytonal, zonal

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: ton·al

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