How do Chinese people sing using tones for both melody and words?


How can they sing if changing a tone might change the meaning of a word? Doesn’t the “tonal direction” upward/downward of a word affect a melody?
How do those systems combine?

In: 48

They don’t really use the tones when singing. They just follow the melody of the piece. The lyrics are comprehendible because most ideas are conveyed with at least two characters. For example if I say the word morning, 早zao normally you would accompany it with a 上。早上。not sure if my explanation helps or hinders .

The pitch aspect of tones in tonal languages are relative, rather than absolute like in music. The songs sang in tonal language are usually composed in a way that would accommodate the tonal aspect of the words, e.g., a high tone would sit on a relatively higher note in the melody.

I’m not a native speaker, but I’ve been learning Mandarin for a year or two and I listen to Chinese music semi-regularly, and my takeaway has been that tones are pretty much ignored when singing. I’ve seen some Chinese people saying that tones aren’t actually that important in regular speech either, and that context is much more useful, but I think that mostly applies to new speakers like me who aren’t very good at keeping their tones consistent, and I’ve had at least one instance of confusion when I’ve mixed up my tones (想 [xiǎng, to want or miss] and 像 [xiàng, to be like]).

A quick Google suggests that some singers, especially those who sing in Cantonese, do sometimes make an effort to match tones to melody for artistic reasons, but it’s not universal.

Native Cantonese speaker. Cantonese has 6 tones (9 if you count the 3 “stopped” tones that have different endings but are covered tonally by the first 6 tones). Tones in Mandarin/Cantonese constrain how natural lyrics might sound in a song–i.e., if you use a word with an inappropriate tone in the melody, it just sounds weird and less natural, although people will usually figure out the word in the context. Tones are always relative–e.g., you can increase the pitch in spoken Mandarin/Cantonese to sound sarcastic, but the relative pitch of the words in your sentence are the same. So it’s not that there’s an absolute tone that fully constrains lyrics, but it is more restrictive than writing lyrics in English (for example). Or to answer your question more directly, lyricists need to choose words that follow the relative pitch pattern of the melody to make the lyrics sound natural. And conversely, any spoken Cantonese sentence has an inherent melody to it already.

In most tonal languages, you’ll actually see a lot of times traditional music tries to accommodate for it – and not only accommodate for it but build it into the music in a rather poetic way in itself. There’s almost a bit of an additional ‘rhyming’ layer of the music built in to help accommodate for tone shifts since (as another commenter already said) the tone shifts are relative rather than absolute (usually).

But also in a lot of more modern pop music types – it’s most just on context. So while yes, changing tone changes the word, you can usually quite easily sort out what people mean by context of all the words around it – similar to the way you would for homonyms in English – sometimes because it makes absolute no sense given part of speech or just on what makes sense. (e.g. when someone says “I see you” – we know they’re saying “see” rather than “sea” because “sea” wouldn’t make sense in the sentence but also just inference – someone saying they’re afraid of “bats in the cave” could be talking about baseball bats, sure – but it probably makes a lot more sense through context that they’re talking about the animal)