from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Music An ornamental melody or counterpoint sung or played above a theme.
  • n. Music The highest part sung in part music.
  • n. A discussion or discourse on a theme.
  • intransitive v. To comment at length; discourse: "He used to descant critically on the dishes which had been at table” ( James Boswell).
  • intransitive v. Music To sing or play a descant.
  • intransitive v. Music To sing melodiously.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A lengthy discourse on a subject
  • n. a counterpoint melody sung or played above the theme
  • v. To discuss at length.
  • v. To sing or play a descant.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n.
  • n. Originally, a double song; a melody or counterpoint sung above the plain song of the tenor; a variation of an air; a variation by ornament of the main subject or plain song.
  • n. The upper voice in part music.
  • n. The canto, cantus, or soprano voice; the treble.
  • n. A discourse formed on its theme, like variations on a musical air; a comment or comments.
  • intransitive v. To sing a variation or accomplishment.
  • intransitive v. To comment freely; to discourse with fullness and particularity; to discourse at large.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • In music, to run a division or variety with the voice, on a musical ground in true measure; sing.
  • To make copious and varied comments; discourse; remark again and again in varied phrase; enlarge or dwell on a matter in a variety of remarks or comments about it: usually with on or upon before the subject of remark: as, to descant upon the beauties of a scene, or the shortness of life.
  • n. In music: A counterpoint added to a given melody or cantus firmus, and usually written above it.
  • n. The art of contriving such a counterpoint, or, in general, of composing part-music. Descant was the first stage in the development of counterpoint; it began about 1100.
  • n. In part-music, the upper part or voice, especially the soprano or air.
  • n. A varied song; a song or tune with various modulations.
  • n. A continued discourse or series of comments upon a subject; a disquisition; comment; remark.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. sing by changing register; sing by yodeling
  • v. talk at great length about something of one's interest
  • v. sing in descant
  • n. a decorative musical accompaniment (often improvised) added above a basic melody


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Middle English, from Anglo-Norman descaunt, from Medieval Latin discantus, a refrain : Latin dis-, dis- + Latin cantus, song, from past participle of canere, to sing; see kan- in Indo-European roots.



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  • "... Unless to spy my shadow in the sun

    And descant on mine own deformity...."

    Richard III, William Shakespeare

    May 25, 2010

  • more info on descants at

    May 23, 2010

  • often called obbligato if done via instrument rather than voice

    May 23, 2010

  • variation on a theme

    March 28, 2009