Definitions

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

  • n. A passage of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in Gregorian chant.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A passage of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in Gregorian chant.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A piece of melody; a song or tune, -- as opposed to recitative or musical declamation.
  • n. A grace or embellishment.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In music: A song, melody, or air, as contrasted with a recitative or declamatory passage.
  • n. A melodic decoration, grace, fioritura, or roulade.
  • n. A cadenza.

Etymologies

Greek, melody, from melizein, to sing, from melos, song.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Ancient Greek μέλισμα (melisma, "song"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • It's called melisma, and most of the contestants on this overblown karaoke-thon simply can't resist contorting their high notes into some pseudo-gospel, neck-vein popping vocal run that's supposed to make everybody in the studio audience shit their pants out of sheer wonder.

    NewWest.Net All Headlines

  • The practice of extending a single syllable out over many notes is known in music as "melisma".

    Ch-ch-ch-changes...

  • "Tropi" is still a matter of research; what we know is that the texts under that kind of melisma which has just been described were not called "Tropi" from the earliest times.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 15: Tournely-Zwirner

  • On numerous songs credited to other acts and, increasingly, more of her own, her singing is spry and sharp, using melisma for the sake of abstraction but also proving smart enough to know when to just lie down and lay into a hook that's good enough to stick on its own.

    Music With an Exclamation Point

  • A few unnecessary flights of melisma aside, the Best R&B Performance class works too; it includes songs by Marsha Ambrosius, Ledisi, Kelly Price & Stokely, Corinne Bailey Rae and Charlie Wilson.

    The Grammys Again Defy Common Sense

  • He has simplified the major propers between the readings, making them easier to sing while retaining crucial features of the authentic chants, such as the Jubilus (ending melisma) in the Alleluia.

    Simplified Gradual 1962 (Richard Rice)

  • The technique, melisma, where you take one vowel and stretch it into a few notes, helps immensely.

    Elliot Goldenthal: On Scoring The Tempest and the Exclusive Video Premiere of "O Mistress Mine"

  • I saw a fair amount of American Idol this season — my wife was pulling for Archuleta — and one of the things that really struck me about Idol performances is how one-dimensional they are from the standpoint of craft as well as form — from the outset, you don't just know what's going to happen (melisma, octave leap, high note), you can fairly accurately predict how it's going to happen.

    Archive 2008-06-01

  • This is how McClane somehow ends up defeating terrorists—and winning American Idol —with his ultrasonic melisma.

    Scott Brown on Why Hollywood Needs a New Model for Storytelling

  • In quick time, robust, sometimes ear-splitting chirping led to gospel-trained Aretha Franklin and the magnificent Patti LaBelle and to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, who could be called the progenitors of today's melisma-infused warbling.

    David Finkle: Real Good Pop Singing, American Idol-Style

Comments

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  • "The singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, where each syllable of text is matched to a single note. Music of ancient cultures used melismatic techniques to induce a hypnotic trance in the listener, useful for early mystical initiation rites (such as Eleusinian Mysteries) and religious worship." from Wikipedia

    December 22, 2008

  • Plural is melismata.

    February 15, 2008

  • Changing the pitch of a single syllable of a lyric as the song is being sung. Think of the syllable "o" in the word "gloria" in Angels We Have Heard On High.

    February 3, 2008