I know many resources for IPA consonants and vowels, but those for tones are hard to search for on the Internet. Is there any?

My understanding is that there are five pitches and tones are how the pitch changes over a syllable, the start, middle, and the end. So theoretically speaking, there can be 5 to the third, 125 tones.

Is there an estimate in musical notes for the five pitches very low, fairly low, middle, fairly high, very high? How far are they from each other in terms of musical scales?

  • Pitch is not really an alphabetic matter, which means IPA is the wrong locus. How many pitches are distinguished, and what they are, and how they are constructed, varies widely from language to language, multi-dimensionally. Look up downstep, for instance.
    – jlawler
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 19:22
  • You might get even richer answers if you explained what your ultimate goal is. Are you doing research? Trying to learn or document a tonal language? Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 14:01
  • @Vegawatcher I am trying to learn. But if there is a project to create a tonal language, I am very interested.
    – Taro
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 1:56

3 Answers 3


this site has Audio examples for tones.


In "ancient times" i.e. before acoustic analysis became so widespread, there was a minor trend of describing tone intervals in musical terms such as minor third, etc. Such descriptions were not widespread. An example is Y-R Chao (1947) Cantonese primer. This dissertation (2005) might be useful for relating auditory perception to physical measurements. The main impediment to that kind of analysis is that training is linguistic tone is uncommon, training in musical theory is uncommon, so the intersection of the two is vanishingly uncommon, though not non-existent. In contemporary tonology, it is much easier to talk in terms of objectively-measurable fundamental frequency, which is the main reason why we don't use a musical framework.


Although I always encourage work between linguistics and music / music theory, I echo what user6726 has said about the difficulties of the kind of measurement necessary to handle linguistic pitch in a musical sense. If you just need some rough indication of frequency, though, you probably are aware that you can always look at a spectrogram (graph of frequencies in Hertz over time). A good resource is https://linguistics.berkeley.edu/acip/. Spectrograms can be or have been annotated by e.g. ToBI conventions for prosody, which tracks tones. In none of these situations, however, is there one tone for each sound or anything. Good luck!

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