Why it is so hard maybe impossible to play what people speak ?

Is what people say transcribable ? If no then, What prevents us from transcribing what people speak ?

What is the difference between people singing and people speaking ?


Here is a link to the Steve Vai song where he plays alongside one of his sisters' conversations.

2nd Question: I'm no linguist, but I would say that singing is merely speaking in a rhythm using elements of music, like harmony, rhyming, and counterpoint.

  • Wow ! It is possible. But I need more information , in what does singing differs from speaking ? – Was.Francis Jul 9 '15 at 18:23
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    That Vai track sounds like it went through Melodyne or AutoTune to try 'fix' some of the pitches. – Tetsujin Jul 9 '15 at 19:07
  • Unlikely. That album is from 1984. And Vai is nothing if not a perfectionist. – Jason P Sallinger Jul 9 '15 at 19:09
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    @Was.Francis: The main difference is that singing has much more well defined pitches than speaking, i.e. you can usually transcribe a sung melody, while the pitches of speech can be anywhere (between the notes). The same is true to some extent for the rhythm. – Matt L. Jul 9 '15 at 20:11
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    That Vai track is fascinating - I reckon Steve Vai has a very strong neurological link between language and playing; watch his mouth at around 4:38 and onwards during this song: youtube.com/watch?v=jY8wyKuLY2k My theory is that the two actions support each other. I have also seen singers physically support notes by moving their hands spatially. – Whelkaholism Jul 10 '15 at 13:16

I'm a bit of a stickler for language, so I would say that it is plainly impossible to play what someone says, though it is possible to imitate how they say it.

Given today's fancy electronics, it should be a straightforward exercise to analyse and transcribe the various pitches, durations, and dynamics (etc) employed in speech.

Composers were imitating the spoken word long before today's electronics. Consider the call and response style of writing. When we hear such a style being played our mind immediately says : Those instruments are talking to each other.

Our formal theory of music and our subjective experience of listening to music both identify music as a language. For example, a composer writes phrases, etc..

According to the contemporary philosopher of music, Jerrold Levinson :

Intelligible music stands to literal thinking in precisely the same relation as does intelligible verbal discourse.

In other words, music is a language we interpret.

  • A phrase in music can easily be construed as a sentence. – Tim Jul 10 '15 at 6:29

There have been musical compositions that transcribe the pitches in the patterns of human speech made in samples and recordings.

Steve Reich's "Different Trains" is a well-known classical composition that has the members of a string quartet (the Kronos Quartet) playing the pitches transcribed from brief samples of recorded speech triggered by a sequencer.


Sometimes, I do this with pupils. We have a sort of conversation, where one asks a question, and the other answers. we start with a simple question, which then gets played in a particular key. the answer is said, then played, using the rhythm of the words. Eventually, if it's going well, the conversation continues with question and answer just in musical phrases. Good fun, which translates words and their rhythm into music.

As far as transcribing is concerned, we don't go that far. Although it wouldn't be difficult.

  • And what is the definition of speaking , what is the definition of singing ? – Was.Francis Jul 9 '15 at 19:08

Look up "vocoder", where a Bell Labs engineer developed a special type of keyboard musical instrument (with foot pedals) that could play recognizable human speech.

It's less possible with typical Western musical instruments and scores because they don't play suitable timbres or notate the right set of (non-equally tempered, etc.) "notes" or sound elements.

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