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This an excerpt from an arragment to the song "Hakuna Matata" from the movie "The Lion King":

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Why are there percussion notes in the vocals?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

What you are seeing is the standard notation for something that is spoken, or chanted. The syllables are intoned at a specific rhythm but not at a specific pitch.

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1  
Sometimes you'll see the notes at different positions in the staff, indicating approximate pitches or the general inflection of the speaking voice. All of the spoken lines in Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess" are notated this way. –  Mark Lutton Apr 25 '12 at 22:13

That is because it's spoken and not sung.

This song in the movie:

(skip to 1:14)

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The technical term is the German "Sprechgesang" and related, "Sprechstimme". Literally "spoken singing" or "spoken voice". Like other answers have stated, the "notes" in question indicate that the words should be spoken in the notated rhythm according to the stems, but the exact pitch is immaterial.

This technique of writing can be fudged a bit, as the cross-head notes (the standard notation for Sprechstimme) can be placed on different lines to indicate a general rise or fall in the spoken "pitch".

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While you are correct, Sprechgesang and Sprechstimme are associated with a certain style of musical composition in a certain period in history--say operas and art songs from Wagner to Schoenberg. The example idober gave is a type of notation you see all the time in Broadway and pop music. It's notated pretty much the same, but it's not really related to Sprechstimme per se. –  Wheat Williams Apr 25 '12 at 22:07

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