When attempting to distinguish different pitch accents, what exactly am I looking for?

I currently practice with https://kotu.io/tests/pitchAccent/minimalPairs

And I attempt to hear if the difference in pitch by thinking about how treble or bass the pronunciation is. If it goes from Bass to more treble and stays there for example, I think its heibangata.

Is there a better way of thinking about it? I feel like I've made no progress in my time training to hear it, and am unsure if I'm even thinking about it correctly.

  • 2
    The page you linked appears to require an account to view.
    – Leebo
    Jan 22, 2022 at 1:19
  • I'm not even sure if this method of training pitch accent is worthwhile
    – Riolku
    Jan 22, 2022 at 3:43

1 Answer 1


What to listen to

You should be listening for changes in the fundamental frequency:

The fundamental frequency, often referred to simply as the fundamental, is defined as the lowest frequency of a periodic waveform.

While formants (aka harmonics), also reflect pitch accent, they may be harder to follow due to fluctuations from vowel shape, and certainly sometimes harder to identify in a spectrogram.

How to best use the site

As for use of the linked site, I recommend first limiting it to heiban and atamadaka only, until you can determine the difference between those two. Maybe try some basic musical exercises in identifying lower vs higher pitched notes if you’re having issues.

How the types map to actual pitch

Also, since it seems like you are maybe having some issues with understanding the types:

定か サ\ダカ HLL atamadaka
斜め ナナ\メ LHL nakadaka
車  クルマ ̄ LHH heiban
頭  アタマ\ LHH odaka (note this is exactly the same as heiban, the difference only becomes apparent when something follows the word like a particle)

As you can see, the first mora starts low, then following ones are high, until the downstep, and then stuff after that is low.

However, if the second mora is ン or ー, then the word will start high:

英語 エーゴ ̄ HHH heiban
今後 コンゴ ̄ HHH heiban

Also, especially in the audio used on that site, heiban words said in isolation will have a gradual drop throughout them, which is hard to represent with just L and H, but you must learn to differentiate them from accents via sufficient exposure. You could for example notate the audio for 英語 and 今後 on that site as HHM if you wanted.

  • Is it only some heiban words that have a gradual drop in them towards the end?
    – firuvi
    Mar 3, 2022 at 11:08
  • 1
    @firuvi In some sense all the words have it, but it's not as relevant because the accent is much more prominent. In the case of heiban there is no accent so it's more more noticable. Mar 4, 2022 at 0:11
  • Is this "listen to the fundamental frequency" just a different way of saying "listen for the first L downstep mora (if it exists, otherwise: heiban)"? Or do you mean something else by this? It's not clear what the takeaway is here :)
    – George
    Jul 9, 2022 at 22:34
  • @George I mentioned it because the OP referenced treble and bass in their question, so I wanted to clarify what part of the spectrum was relevant. Though in retrospect they were perhaps just using them in place of “low” and “high”, so maybe not the most relevant information for them. Jul 10, 2022 at 5:50

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