Introduction to the Sounds of German

In the following table you will find the sounds of sung "high" German, as they are represented in International Phonetic Alphabet and their ASCII Equivalents, along with sample words. While it is not uncommon to hear even classical singers use other German dialects in their singing, the high German is still considered the standard for opera and artsong. Especially when notating diphthongs, not all transcriptions use identical IPA; use whatever scheme is used in your diction classes if you are in a diction course, or use whatever system makes the most sense to you if you have completed your studies.

IPA Symbol ASCII Equivalent Example Word
Pure Vowels
i /i/ Liebe
e /e/ leben (note 1)
ɪ /I/ bitte
e /e/ Trnen (note 1)
ɛ /E/ Bett
ɑ /A/ Jahr
ɔ /O/ Motte
ʊ /U/ Mutter
o /o/ tot
u /u/ humor
Mixed Vowels
y /y/ kühl
ø /Q/ schön
ʏ /Y/ hülle
œ /q/ hölle
ə /@/ verliebe (note 2)
j /j/ ja
b /b/ beide
ç /C/ ich
d /d/ dann
f /f/ fassen
g /g/ Gott
h /h/ Himmel
k /k/ kalt
l /l/ Lied
m /m/ mit
n /n/ nett
ŋ /N/ Liebling
p /p/ pochen
r /r/ raff
s /s/ bist
ʃ /S/ schwarz
t /t/ tief
ʦ /ts/ Zug
ʧ /tS/ Deutsch
v /v/ was
x /x/ ach
z /z/ sagt
ʒ /Z/ genieren


Note 1: In sung German, there are two variants or degrees of closed /e/. The more closed version sounds similar to /i/ in English. The less closed version is similar to /ɛ/ in Italian. If you study conversational German, you'll start to make this difference without overthinking it.

Note 2: Singers and dictionaries don't always agree on when to use the schwa; be consistent and use what sounds best for the language and for your voice.

Note 3: Be careful of "o" or "u" (with or without umlauts) followed by "ss" or "β". You may have to look these up to determine the open or closed pronunciation of the vowels.

Note 4: Coaches and language teachers can disagree on the lengthening of double consonants in German. While they are not emphasized in the way that Italian double consonants are, they are often lengthened for meaning and drama.

Note 5: In German, consonants aren't always pronounced as they look. For instance, sometimes "b" is pronounced /p/, "d" as /t/, "g" as /k/, and "s" as /z/. Words beginning in "ch" have 5 possible pronunciations. The letter "h" is sometimes pronounced and sometimes silent, depending on its position and function in the word. Learning what happens when is a matter of studying the pronunciation guidelines for this language, and lots of practice.