Wikipedia says that "diatonic" refers to a whole note scale or a scale with seven pitched per octave.


But my take is that the major and minor scale are built from five-note groupings with the intervals of WWHW and WHWW ... which is another way of saying that keys are built in fifths C-G-D-A etc. because C and G (I and V) are the most consonant notes ... the G is the 'secondary tonic'.

This is also the position of a music theory website ...

http://www.historyofmusictheory.com/?page_id=158 which states...

"This second tonic or “Di-tonic” which phonetically can be argued that this was the original meaning of “Dia-tonic” (Two tonics root and 5th producing the Hypo(dual tonic/di-tonic) scales as opposed to the common “Diatonic” naming convention."

But there is no historical reference here.

Is there an actual historical reference to our phonetic speculations that diatonic really means 'di-tonic'?

  • 6
    Reputable dictionaries show the etymology with dia- without exception, so the burden of proof is on the website. At any rate, it is not etymology that will validate an unconventional theory, but whether it is useful.
    – user48353
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 1:11
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Exactly what does "diatonic" mean?
    – Aaron
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 22:27
  • Yep, the only reasons against are definitions. As Prof. Mahesh Kumar said it's a perfectly reasonable alternative and since most don't want to allow that to be true I'll just make a video about it and hope people start thinking instead of reacting. Definition of mood? "The cow mood yesterday." - Erin, The Office Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 0:49

2 Answers 2


Diatonic comes from Greek "διατονική" (there are early Greek music theory texts from times way before Western Middle Ages) and "di" and "dia" are completely different word constituents in Greek. It sounds like that website is making up things.

  • Yes, they are and I am too. We both state so. Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 1:55
  • I think the Greek might be διατονικό
    – Tom Serb
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 4:53
  • 1
    @TomSerb, those are both cases of the same form διατονικός. el.wiktionary.org/wiki/…
    – user48353
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 5:06
  • 3
    @RandyZeitman User57883 means that the website made up the etymological claim.
    – user45266
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 6:49
  • @user57883 Yes, and I did as well ... make up the etymological claim... it's the motive for the question. Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 0:52

The only times I've seen the word "ditonic" used in music were in theoretical scale lists. Rather than meaning "two tonics" it means "two tones", in the same sense that we use in talking about pentatonic or heptatonic scales.

"dia-" is Greek for "through": diameters are measures through a circle, diagonals are lines dividing squares or rectangles, etc by going through their center from corner to corner, etc. Diatonic is literally "through the tones".

  • Yes, two tones ... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditonic_scale Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 0:55
  • A diameter specifically breaks things into two equal parts. Therefore has two points. Same as diatonic… Breaking a scale to achieve musical halves... The five being the second Tallac where is the next she starts. Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 17:24

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