I have searched and asked others for the answer to this but have come up dry: what is the name or technique in music where musical notes approximate/imitate speech? Note that I am not talking about vocoders where speech is modulated by tones or notes, but rather the technique of arranging notes so they sound similar in pitch/length to spoken syllables. An example is the intro to "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner.

  • speech is music (sound in general) too so it doesn't need an extra name rather you just transcribe the notes of words and try to play them as accurate as possible. I don't think there is any special technique for that other than hard work or a few tools in the trick bags such whammy bar for a laughter etc.
    – user1306
    Dec 30, 2012 at 13:07
  • Perhaps a better fit for English SE?
    – Luke_0
    Dec 31, 2012 at 16:11
  • Like this? (I'm referring to the piano that someone has added to the film scene. :-) Jan 1, 2013 at 23:44
  • Peter Ablinger wrote some wonderful pieces that imitate the speech of famous people so closely that you can almost hear the words. youtube.com/watch?v=ZN_o6nKwY5U Then he went the extra mile and built an electronic player piano that transcribes voice to notes automatically. youtube.com/watch?v=muCPjK4nGY4 Jan 3, 2013 at 5:47
  • I've seen many kinds of imitation in music; imitating human speech is just one kind. (Look up some Renaissance bird songs for more peculiar examples of imitation). I think they're just called imitation! My favorite example is Steve Vai's intro to "The Audience is Listening." :-)
    – Owen S.
    Jan 5, 2013 at 6:01

4 Answers 4


First I thought you meant something like this but it seems that's not the case...

I don't know if what you ask actually has a name or not. However, it seems that it could be a part of the more general idea that music and speech have much in common. In this case, if you would use long notes for short syllables and vice versa, or weak notes for strong syllables, low notes for words which would be naturally spoken in a higher pitch, and so on, the music would become incomprehensible or at least illogical.

So, in general, to make music and text go well together, you would at least get the proportions approximately similar, only breaking them when you know what you're doing. Music matching syllables exactly would then just be an extreme case of this. Perhaps the term rhetoric in music could get you further.

In the intro of the piece you mentioned the notes are just the first notes of the main melody, which again seems to be composed according to these principles.


"Musical notes that approximate/imitate speech..." could be categorized as musical onomatopoeia -- music which imitates sounds of the environment including speech.

However, based on your example of Hot Blooded, I think that you are instead looking to describe musical notes that outline a sung melody. If so, I think that the best term for this is simply lyrical melody.


Vocal imitation or vocal mimicry.

  • 5
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    Jan 18 at 23:57

I have searched and asked others for the answer to this but have come Up dry: what is the name or technique in music where musical notes approximate/imitate speech?


Recitative (/ˌrɛsɪtəˈtiːv/, also known by its Italian name recitativo ([retʃitaˈtiːvo]) is a style of delivery (much used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas) in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms and delivery of ordinary speech. Recitative does not repeat lines as formally composed songs do. It resembles sung ordinary speech more than a formal musical composition.


  • Nice find, but that seems more about integrating real speech into music, rather than imitating it. Jan 19 at 7:17

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