if tones are so important in chinese as to even distinguish shades of meaning, how can a chinese sing a song? in music every syllable has its own note/tone, so when we sing a song, we must disregard the appropriate tone and apply the musical note to that chinese character... for example we must say "zai"(in...at...) with a falling pitch, but what if the note in the song necessitates us to pronounce "zai" with rising pitch????...
I’ve been asked a number of times: if Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, what happens when you sing in Mandarin? Well, the answer is the melody takes over and the tones are ignored. Pretty simple.
A graphic representation of tones spoken vs. sung in Mandarin [also from Sinosplice]:
Sometimes, though I think, if you listen closely a lot of people are included to sing the tone even though they don't need to.
That's why it is hard writing Chinese lyrics .... rather hard for Mandarin songs (4 tones) .... and very hard for Cantonese songs (9 tones). And don't forget to maintain the rhyme.
If the tone of a character do not match the tone of song, it is easy to be mistaken as another character. Experienced singers may tweak the tone slightly as the last remedy. In most cases, native speakers could deduce the correct character by the term or the whole sentence when listening to such songs.
Many hymns in Hong Kong were filled with Cantonese lyrics of the wrong tones. They all sound extremely odd to native Cantonese speakers. Luckily, the vocabulary used are quite predictable and most people can understand the hymns.
我們是快樂的好兒童 (written) = We are happy good kids
鵝-滿-是-快-烙-滴-好耳痛 (sounded) = groose-full-is-quick-sear-drop-very painful ear
Funny, isn't it?