According to wikipedia: "Intonation, in music, is a musician's realization of pitch accuracy, or the pitch accuracy of a musical instrument." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intonation_(music))

The word "intonation" seems to imply a relationship with "tone", which is often used interchangeably with "timbre" or "tone color". Another definition of tone includes all of "duration, pitch, intensity (or loudness), and timbre (or quality)" together. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_tone)

Is intonation related to timbre, or any elements of musical tone other than pitch?


  • 3
    No-one has mentioned it yet in the answers & it's not worth an answer all by itself, but think of it as "in-tune-ation"
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 4, 2019 at 18:19
  • @Tetsujin YES
    – user45266
    Mar 4, 2019 at 18:21

3 Answers 3


Etymologically, they are related (From the Latin tonus), but really that's the only connection.

'Tone' itself has a number of meanings. It can ...

  • be a synonym for 'note'
  • be a synonym for 'timbre'
  • mean a 'whole step' in a diatonic scale.

'Intonation' usually refers to variation of, or selection of pitch. This is true in everyday speech (we talk about the intonation of someone's voice), and also in music where intonation tends to refer to the exact pitch that a note is sounded at with respect to the possible 'range' of frequencies that note could take.


"Tone" has (at least) three different meanings in music, which can be confusing. The first meaning is interchangeable with "timbre" (as you mention). The second refers to the interval of a whole step. The third refers to a specific pitch and is basically interchangeable with "note."

Here are some example sentences to demonstrate the different meanings:

  1. (meaning "timbre"): "The saxophone player had a harsh tone."
  2. (meaning "step"): "The diminished scale is created from alternating whole-tones and semi-tones."
  3. (meaning "note"): "The generator created a tone of 440 Hz"

So answer your question:

Is intonation related to timbre, or any elements of musical tone other than pitch?

The answer is "No."


Intonation is purely connected with pitch. Sing or play a violin out of tune, and it's said your intonation is off. It also has reference to where the bridge needs to be on fretted instruments - as when it's wrongly placed, the frets will produce out-of-tune notes.

Intonation also has a meaning concerning the opening of a plainsong melody - pitch again.

Tone has reference to timbre, but I wouldn't think volume or duration was much to do with tone.No, just happens to have the same three letters in each word. Same reason it's nothing to do with weight: tonne!

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