Do Japanese (pop) songs usually preserve pitch accent (so that the words have to be chosen in accordance with the melody, just the words in English songs have to match the meter) or does it get completely overwritten by the melody? Or do both pitches interact in some way?

  • 1
    It depends on writer's policy. For example, 桑田佳祐 doesn't care destructing linguistic elements.
    – user4092
    Jul 25, 2017 at 23:44
  • 1
    – chocolate
    Jul 31, 2017 at 1:25

3 Answers 3


The simple answer? No. Japanese completely overwrite pitches in many songs just to go with the melody.

Because Japanese tones vary depending what region you're in (different regions carry different dialects, with varying pitches for the same words), it's not practical to put it in a song that would want to be played in all of Japan.

Taken from wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_pitch_accent): "For instance, the word for "now" is [iꜜma] in the Tokyo dialect, with the accent on the first mora (or equivalently, with a downstep in pitch between the first and second morae), but in the Kansai dialect it is [i.maꜜ]. A final [i] or [ɯ] is often devoiced to [i̥] or [ɯ̥] after a downstep and an unvoiced consonant."

  • It's said that Mandarin speakers also override the linguistic tones with the melody of songs (see discussion). I bet this is true of most languages with linguistically relevant pitch. Jul 31, 2017 at 10:10
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    If tone pattern differences between dialects was the issue, they wouldn't show TV news in standard Japanese all over the country. It's really just a cultural choice - Mandarin ignores tones as well, while Cantonese tries to match the melody and tones together. Japanese also can ignore syllable weight fairly easily, while it's much odder to do so in an English song.
    – Sjiveru
    Aug 1, 2017 at 1:35

"Singing", as in what people might do with their voices in songs, can vary a lot by genre, style, etc. When people say words in different ways, contrasts in speech, such duration between long and short vowels (e.g. o vs ou) may become harder, if not impossible, to distinguish. As mentioned in some of the comments above, pitch often gets overridden by musical concerns (pitch of melody, and so forth) in many songs.

It should be noted however, however, that something like "pitch accent" is more than just a change in pitch. Pitch accent might be accompanied by all sorts of things, such as voice quality, duration, etc. (I don't know the specifics of this for Japanese pitch). While "pitch accent", or some other term, might be a convenient way to talk about the structure of Japanese in theory, these contrasts are natural phenomena which are signaled in many ways (not just some +/-HIGH, as a grammar text may describe it).

In the end, for people proficient in a language, recognizing words even with added musical "noise" may not be a problem. More so than with Japanese, I've seen this with Chinese. A foreigner would not get very far learning the distinguishing tones for words from some song, but a native speaker or experienced learner would have no issue repeating lyrics in a normal speaking voice, with the "correct", expected tones.

  • Thanks for the information! Very little seems to be known about secondary pitch accent cues, so they have to be pretty subtle, but they do exist, according to this paper: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28384645
    – Dominik
    Aug 1, 2017 at 10:27
  • I would imagine that pitch accent is relatively easy to describe (ex: the most important thing is that the pitch increases) relative to other linguistic phenomena (like the mysterious Japanese ん). Thanks for the paper link, looks interesting!
    – haksayng
    Aug 1, 2017 at 18:44

As far as I know, pitch accent is less relevant in Japanese pop music than it is in English pop music partially because Japanese syllables are more percussive than English syllables are (think: one consonant-sound and one vowel for (most) Japanese syllables), and so sound less unnatural when pitch accent changes for the sake of a melody.

However, sometimes, guttural stops such as words with (small) っ are sometimes pronounced as enunciated extra vowels with stops in between: A word such as きっと "kitto" might be easily heard as "ki-i-to" instead.

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    It would usually be "ki-i-tto", I think, rather than "ki-i-to".
    – user1478
    Jul 24, 2017 at 20:12
  • @snailplane your answer might be more correct but sometimes the consonant stop isn't given a long time making it sound like the guttural stop isn't there. was just listening to a globe song not too long ago, "Love again", and it sounds like she pronounces 一緒に as "i-i-sho-ni" instead of "i-i-ssho-ni," for example
    – psosuna
    Jul 24, 2017 at 23:03
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    っし stands for prolonged fricative sound to begin with.
    – user4092
    Jul 25, 2017 at 23:33
  • right, but you're missing the point. in general speech, you would treat っ as a fricative or guttural stop. that rule seems to be foregone in song, where っ will become an additional vowel instead, with a small pause.
    – psosuna
    Jul 25, 2017 at 23:54
  • @psosuna That doesn't contradict to きっと being "ki-i-tto", do it?
    – user4092
    Jul 31, 2017 at 6:12

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