What's the term for the singing style where the singer sings around the note endlessly?

Many peoples ask me and now I wonder? - what’s the term for the singing style where the vocalist sings around the note endlessly, a la Whitney Houston in I Will Always Love You, for example? It was used in a thread on this board within the last few months, but I can’t find it through a search.


Thanks! I remembered it as “that word that sounds like a disease”.

I think you answered that in a whole 45 seconds, which is as long as it takes Whitney Houston to hit the right note.

Without it American Idol would run about 10 minutes an episode.

I think it could be argued that it IS a disease, at least at it pertains to the AI abuse of the technique.


I never knew there was a word to describe it. This came up in conversation just the other day and I described it as “that annoying karoake trilling bullshit all the American Idol kids do.” It’s refreshing that real musicians virtually never do it.

Real musicians do, but they know how to wield it in a way that serves the song. Whitney Houston can do it. Stevie Wonder can do it. The amateurish, AI clods have no sensitivity or any real idea of shading, subtlety, nuance, phrasing, anything like that. Melisma can be an expressive and useful tool, if used right, but the AI types (and even a lot of established recording acts) have no idea what’s they’re doing.

Yeah, it’s as valid a technique as vibrato. Unfortunately, it’s been horribly abused by modern “singers” with no taste who equate vocal gymnastics with actual technique.

If you want to hear it used with gorgeous subtlety, listen to September Song by Sarah Vaughn. Her sweet vibrato makes the song shine throughout most of its running time, but she shows impressive technique with the melisma after the horn solo at around the 4:50 mark that really adds a lovely flourish to the end.

I thought the technical term was caterwauling.

Help stamp out melisma in our lifetime! :smiley:

Please, don’t be shy. Tell us how you really feel.

I call it “vocal gymnastics” too. Nice to know the real word.

I actually rather like it when Eddie Vedder does it.

It’s probably easily mistaken for melena, which are black, tarry stools caused by gastrointestinal bleeding.

Yeah, but what percentage of the general public have ever run across that word? I hadn’t…

OTOH, “melisma” sounds a lot like “miasma,” which in a cliched way is often bandied about in the context of, appropriately enough, nausea. :smiley:

(I’m not generally a fan of melisma either.)

Usually caused by melisma.

This might be a dumb question but what is the difference between vibrato and melisma?

Now if someone can name the affliction that causes the, er, melismatic to punctuate it by pointing at each invisible note, a la Mariah Carey.

Vibrato is when you hit a note and vary the pitch slightly to produce a quavering sound. Melisma is when you sing a bunch of other notes in addition to the one that is actually part of the melody.

Yeah, I was considering going there but thought that might be too over the top - glad to see I was wrong. :wink: