In piano and any other instruments which produces musical notes, it seems the notes that matches the rap are never found.

But I think it can't be true, because after all there is some voice frequencies at which the rap is done, so if we can copy those frequencies we can produce the rap in a sound only form.

Is it that piano and music note producing instrumental don't have those frequencies, so we can't play (because piano etc have only 7 notes in different octaves).

Is it possible to play rap parts on piano etc?

If not, which instruments can rap be played on?

Edit: I don't mean piano singing the rap with all words etc. I mean can we lay the notes of the rap part on piano or any other instrument.

For example, in karaoke there is often a backing melody (which matches melody of the voice of singer(s), the words spoken by the singer(s) ). In those backing melody, the melody of singing part matches the song, but for rapping part they put one note repeating. So I wanted to know if we can reproduce the rap melody on piano etc or any other instrument.

PS: I am new to all musical terms (like notes, melody, key, tones etc) so please pardon if I use some incorrect terms and kindly edit my question if needed.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 18:13

8 Answers 8


Rap is rhythmic speech. Speech has pitch any time there is a vowel sound or other vocal cord-produced sound happening. (F and S sounds are examples of sounds that don’t require vocal cord movement.) As rhythmic speech, rap definitely has pitch; it’s just not necessarily (or ever?) what we would call melodic, nor is it in equal temperament and organized into 12 pitches per octave. (Pianos have 12 pitches per octave, not 7.)

Instruments can definitely mimic singing and speech, to varying degrees of success. Electric guitar is much more pitch-flexible than piano. Here's an example of call and response between a vocalist and a guitarist. For the most part, this is melodic and doesn't answer the question, but it's a simple introduction to how it works and it may help to see it as it gets more esoteric.

Moving on, here's a band who made a hard rock backing track to the film Bambi. Listen as the electric guitarist mimics the speech of the rabbit character, Thumper.

With computers, speech can be analyzed to find the constituent pitches of formants, which are the harmonic components that vowel sounds and voiced consonants (mmm, for example) have in human speech. This is how vocal correction algorithms like Auto-Tune work. Once analyzed, formants can be manipulated to become melodic, as this video of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech demonstrates.

This German-language video shows some MIDI data played back on an automated piano (i.e. played robotically like a Yamaha Disklavier). The MIDI pitch data was extracted from human speech in high resolution. See if you can understand what's being "said" without looking at the subtitles. (The piano "speaks" in English.)

There's no reason this technique couldn't be applied to rap music, assuming you have the vocal tracks isolated. Of course, this may not be humanly possible, but it doesn't mean it isn't possible. It’s also of limited use, since duplicating pitch isn’t really important in rap. It’s about getting the syllables to fall on particular parts of the beat.

Update: I found an additional video by music YouTuber Adam Neely, which, in a way, also addresses this question. He's applying the technique of mimicking speech to finding inspiration for creating jazz fusion music. The speech comes from a Simpsons episode, which he recreates on bass guitar. He also adds harmony on a synthesizer. His video includes a couple of the examples I linked above and has more besides.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 18:14
  • The "talking piano" example reminded me of an old DOS program (maybe the original "Command & Conquer" or "Wing Commander") which reproduced speech with rapidly changing pitches.
    – Paul Rowe
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 16:35
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    I feel that this is obligatory: youtube.com/watch?v=k0gKUa1KRlA Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 4:07

The whole point of rap is that it's not in particular pitches. If it was, it'd be singing, and easily reproduced on piano - or any other musical instrument. As it's basically talking, it isn't attributable to a particular key, so won't be classed as 'music that can be written in notes'. Or 'music that can be played in notes'. You may be able to get close on something like a violin, with notes available exactly on and off recognised pitches.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 18:12

Rapping is essentially rhythmic speech.

The sound of speech can have a very complex structure. It consists of:

  • pitched sounds (mostly coming from the voice box), which can (simplistically speaking) be at any arbitrary pitch within the range of the voice, and have their pitch rapidly varied

  • unpitched 'noise' sounds, such as plosives, fricatives, and other sounds caused by turbulent air in the mouth. These are an important part of the way the speech is perceived as rhythmic (sometimes even percussive).


  • the envelope of both of these types of sounds is very controllable
  • the resonance of the mouth can be changed in a number of ways, altering the timbre of the voice

The piano has many limitations preventing it from making a sound anything like speech:

  • It can only play certain discrete pitches
  • The envelope of a piano sound is essentially always an exponential decay
  • It has no way of producing unpitched 'noise' sounds
  • there isn't much control over the timbre of a note once it has been sounded

This doesn't mean that you can't try to imitate the sound of a rapper on a piano - but it does mean that your rendition isn't going to be very faithful.

If instead of a piano, we used a violin, could we sound make a more like speech?

Well, we wouldn't have the problem of being limited to a discrete set of pitches, or an exponential envelope, so we could do better than on the Piano. However, we'd still have a limited ability to add noise components to the sound, and less ability to vary the sound timbre than the human voice has.

Ultimately, if you want to create the sound of speech believably - you need a speech synthesizer, or a human voice!


Do rap/hip-hop musician sample jazz parts?


If you can sample jazz for hip-hop, then you should be able to live perform it in hip-hop too. You should be able to play some jazz piano patterns and have it fit.

I'm kinda old so I think of groups like Us3 and Jazzmatazz, but I know current musician also use jazz samples now. I just cannot name any names. Maybe try The Roots.

I think hard bop and modal are the jazz styles frequently sampled. Try listening to hip-hop with jazz samples and check out pianists like Bill Evans, Horace Silver, and Herbie Hancock. You will want to sort through the huge catalog of songs they recorded and look for the ones that emphasize funk and groove. Silver and Hancock will have more of that rather than Evans.

Starting point example: Us3 Cantaloop sampled Herbie Hancock's piano from Cantaloupe Island


I read your addition about karaoke...

... in karaoke there is often a backing melody...but for rapping part they put one note repeating

I still don't really know what this question is about. Are you trying to make karaoke backing track for rap music?

But, I'll just get back to your question as asked...

Why can't we play rap on piano?

I'm going to try restating that in a way that I hope captures your intent. "Why can't an acoustic piano mimic the sound of rapping without the words?"

In that case the issue is piano has fixed pitches for the keys but the voice has flexible pitch.

When talking our voices produce pitches and those pitches slide up and down freely. Even in some rap styles where the rapper maintains a sort of droning pitch, different parts of the lyrics can have shifts in pitch for emphasis. Such shifts many involve sliding, very small intervals, or even a dropping off of a distinct pitch in a very flexible way. A piano simply cannot do all that subtle, flexible shifting of pitch.

If you try to play the rhythm of the rap on piano (without the words of course), the problem will be the unchanging pitch of the piano. Even if you try playing a step up or down from a central note on the piano, the pitches will be very distinct and not at all like the flexible pitch of the voice. The result surely will be a very monotonous sound from the piano.

If not [piano], which instruments can rap be played on?

I think any number of percussion instruments would be much better suited for mimicking the rap. A snare drum with brushes can get a lot of subtle tones. A talking drum could also work, because they are pitched and importantly they have strings on the drum side that can be squeezed to bend the pitch.

  • 2
    Good answer, but you may have the wrong question. OP isn't very clear, but I think they're asking about literally playing the spoken rap part on the piano.
    – user45266
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 16:25
  • I posted a comment asking for clarification. I may indeed being misunderstanding the OP's meaning. Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 16:35
  • I mean, everything you're saying is right, and if it turns out OP didn't mean what everyone thought, then that's on OP. My not-as-funny-as-I-thought comment was that OP might mean literally rap upon the piano (as in a rapping on someone's head - to hit)
    – user45266
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 16:40
  • 1
    Yeah, I got the joke. You just can't hear me laugh through the Internet. Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 17:01

In theory you can. In practice it would be almost impossible without mechanical assistance. Here is an example of what it might sound like if you could:

  • This video is very interesting, but unfortunately only readily comprehensible to German speakers, since the commentary is in German, though the text ‘spoken’ by the piano is in English; while I could easily enough produce a transcript and translation given a little while, I am afraid I have other things to do right now. (I am also not sure if the poster would be happy with such a large edit!)
    – PJTraill
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 20:08
  • Sure. My point was about the ability to mimic speech on an acoustic instrument more than the actual meaning of the words.
    – nweiler
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 1:54

Back in my day (you young punks) there was this thing called "Patter - Song," which comprised a full tune and spoken lines (preferably poetic) for vocals. Cake pretty much does/did this. And there's the (in)famous example of Rex Harrison not singing all the numbers in My Fair Lady. So unless you want to try to recreate the African Drum Communication via two notes on the piano, you will need a vocalist to be able to produce "rap."

  • 2
    In addition to 'patter song...'Some may think this a silly notion, but I think there is a comparison between rap and opera recitative. In that the normal melodic/harmonic flow stops in recitative and it become more about reciting text rhythmically which is at least a partial definition of rapping. Hip-hop rapping is of course a new thing, but reciting text is as old as can be. Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 17:07

The words and lyrics issue aside, the main reasons you cannot reproduce the "notes" of rap credibly on a piano are: (1) the lack of pitch bending capability, (2) the lack of means for altering the tone and dynamics continuously along each note like you can do with vocals.

Many rap songs actually sing tones roughly around some particular notes of the scale of the backing track, but the pitch wanders very liberally around the "note". But if you listen carefully, very often the rap sings the first note of the key, for example if the backing track is in C major, the rap might be centered around the C note. Other notes can be identified as well, and in my opinion the note choice affects the overall feeling. If you rap on a minor seventh or fourth of the scale, it feels a bit more insisting or something.

If you want to try it on the piano, here's a transcription of one chorus of Skee-Lo's "I Wish", written in traditional Western music notation, which is not really suitable for this task at all. However, the piano suits very well for playing music that can be written using Western musical notation, and that should tell you that the piano and the notation system come from the same source. Maybe you could also say that rap has something that comes from a different tradition and a different source? :)

Skee-Lo I Wish rap transcription

I'm sure other repetitions of the chorus differ from this one. And how should it be transcribed? The rap is certainly following the backing chord changes and their modulations, even though for most notes the pitch is constantly bending slightly up or down, like it does in spoken English. Maybe it shouldn't be a C on the Bmaj9 on the second line, but a B? I don't know. YMMV. But if someone claims that the rap's pitches are not based on the backing track's tonality, and that they would have rapped the same pitches regardless of what there was in the background, then ... I disagree. :)

Here's the music video


Rap is talking, not singing. Pitches are indeterminate. Which is sort of the definition of singing versus talking. Singing has pitch. Talking doesn't. There's a certain amount of up-and-down, yes. But if it hit definite pitches, you WOULD be able to pick them out on a piano, or at least recognise 'that one's in the crack between E and F'.

  • 4
    Downvoted because talking is most certainly pitched. Hey, there's even Henry Hey!
    – Ben I.
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 12:44
  • 1
    Great! Yes, like I said, there's some up and down. But without the music, would you have definitely transcribed THOSE notes? I doubt it.
    – Laurence
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 13:17
  • 3
    Since I suspect that that was generated using an auto-tuner, I'm going to go ahead and say that you would transcribe exactly those notes, yes. They are part of the speech itself. The assertion that "talking doesn't [have pitch]" is wrong, and it's a common misunderstanding. Speech isn't limited to the 12 tones of the octave, and the notes shift and slide quickly, but they are actual pitches, and they can be reasonably closely transcribed. (As is definitively proven by the example I gave of it having been done.) Have you heard of a process called Sprechstimme?
    – Ben I.
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 16:01
  • 3
    There's a difference between indeterminate and just that the pitch is unimportant. I know people with perfect pitch who can do exactly what what you described; someone'll be talking, and they'll say, oh, that person just hit a D♭2! (Also, the whole reason you can autotune someone who's talking is that speech has definite pitch - we aren't drums!)
    – user45266
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 16:23
  • 1
    @LaurencePayne See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intonation_(linguistics) and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tone_(linguistics). Pitch in talking can even be absolute rather than relative, but that's, ah, not particularly common.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 15:58