How does Pitch Accent work in the context of Japanese Music?

As you know, pitch is an important attribute of the Japanese language and is needed for optimal communication. However my question concerns how pitch accent affects singing. Music also is dependent on pitch and it would seem to me that having a strict standard on how words are to be pronounced with pitch seems to be a determent on producing unique melodies.
Do Japanese vocalists simply ignore pitch accents while singing and rely on context exclusively or is there another method that they use?


As far as I’m aware, they just ignore pitch accent while singing.


What do you mean by “rely on context”? It sounds like you’re referring to how people rely on context for understanding a conversation, but I wouldn’t expect that to be relevant to the vocalist. I could be misunderstanding what you meant though.

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Context can still be relevant in a song. Say the song is talking about eating, you’d expect はし to be 箸, rather than 橋, for example.


But why would the vocalist have to rely on context? They would presumably be reading the lyrics in kanji when they are learning/practicing the song.

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True… I was thinking of a listener, but you did specify vocalist.

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Perhaps I said vocalist when I should have said the composers/writers of a song.

But then doesn’t my same point apply? They know what they are writing so they know how it would sound if spoken in a regular sentence. They can (and often will) choose to ignore the normal pitch accent when composing the song if it’s convenient.

I think this whole misunderstanding is just one of you imagining that rely on context implies “to be understood” and the other imagining it’s rely on context “to understand”


New here so may not be helpful but going based off English based songs (my main language), could be that certain words that would be affected by pitch are not used in those instances.

Depending on the word, there is only so much leeway you can do with it depending on what it is and may be the same way for Japanese singing.

Going off example which I think OP is referring to would be something like singing and using kipu vs kippu since one you draw out the word when saying normally so how would that work? I’m guessing you’d draw out the second part as normal instead of the middle since that’s how it is normally pronounced (from what I remember) which is what I think they mean by going based on context (if you draw out in the middle like English songs do when extending a word in a lyric).

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Just to make sure, not sure if you just switched topic slightly knowingly, but you know pitch accent is a separate phenomenon where words have certain patterns of pitch they fall into, and not difference of pronunciation like that, right? It exists for all of Japanese, but there are cases where words otherwise pronounced the same are distinguished purely by pitch (rain vs candy being あめ is a classic example). Here is a video to just show the difference in case you don’t: あめ

Also, first post, welcome!

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they mean “rely on supplying context as a means to make their lyrics understandable”

Thanks for the example and that is what I was trying to go for but see my understanding was a bit off for what I was trying to think in my head.

For faster paced songs seem like they would be difficult to understand/hear the pitch correctly since I know that I have trouble with songs in my own language to understand some lyrics depending on the song.

What is the purpose of music? particularity music that has lyrics. It is to communicate to the listener. My post was essentially asking how the composers/writers of a song write in the Japanese language. A language that relies on pitch for communication while staying coherent for the listener.
I believe you thought I was asking how the vocalist and composers view it exclusively.
Perhaps this was due to poor composition in my initial paragraph, in which case i apologize.

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Pitch often doesn’t matter in music, but I personally find often melodies tend to follow pitch accent patterns. Could be random and anecdotal, maybe I only notice when lyrics melody and pitch accent match up? Idk, I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think sometimes Japanese listeners would get confused if the pitches for 雨 and 飴 were confused, or 地 and 血, or 帰る and カエル etc.
Here is one random example from a children’s song my kids used to sing in youchien:

Obviously, the pitch does not match perfectly on every word, but in general, if you’re familiar with the pitch patterns of words, you will see a general correspondence with the melody for most of the words in this song.


I see. Yeah, I understand what you mean now. In which case I think the composer/writer just trusts the listener to understand what’s being said. This isn’t limited to pitch accent either. Japanese songs often extend or shorten vowels contrary to how they would sound in spoken Japanese if it’s convenient. Other considerations are the number of notes in a bar/section and various options for lyrics, so if they have to extend or shorten vowels to make their preferred lyrics fit they may choose to do so. (Obviously that’s an oversimplification, but that’s my general impression.)


I’m really bad at listening to lyrics in any language. :joy: I tend to just zone out and enjoy the melody. :slight_smile:


Oh you and me both, there. Compared to the general sound, I rarely manage to feel very strongly about the lyrics to much of anything unless they’re just that distractingly bad, which seems to really confuse a lot of people haha.


When I first started listening to japanese music, long before I started studying the language, I had a hard time following lyrics in romaji because I would read the words in a completely different entonation. I later stumbled upon the whole pitch thing and it all made sense. However, because music is an art, some artist might take some artistic license for one reason or another and ignore pitch accent for the sake of other aspects.

And there is this song I really like called ningen sokkuri by plenty which says “subete dekite nanimo dekinai”. That dekinai does not follow the pitch accent rule for negative verbs, and I love it :sparkles:

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Pitch is not usually critical for understanding. It’s more impactful in terms of how natural someone’s speech sounds. But singing is already not intended to sound like natural speech, so it’s not going to be a problem ignoring it for melodic or rhythmic reasons.


I can think of a few examples where the long vowels and gemination are done quite conspicuously. Have a listen to (for example) the Evangelion OP.

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