Creating Emotion with Melisma in Songwriting


Melisma, also known as vocal runs or flourishes, is a vocal technique in which a single syllable of a word is sung over several notes in a melody. It is a common element in popular music and is used to add expression and emotion to a song, as well as to showcase a singer’s vocal range and technical ability.

One of the most famous examples of melisma can be found in Whitney Houston’s iconic performance of “I Will Always Love You,” in which she sings the word “you” over a series of high notes. Melisma can be used in various styles of music, from pop and R&B to gospel and opera. It is often used to convey the emotion of the lyrics and to add drama to a song. In gospel music, for example, melisma is used to convey the singer’s belief and passion for their faith.

There are a few key tips for songwriters looking to incorporate melisma into their songs:

1. Choose the right syllable to “melismatize”

In order to effectively use melisma, it’s important to choose the right syllable to extend. Typically, the most effective syllables are those that convey the strongest emotion.

2. Consider the melody

When writing a melody that will include melisma, it’s important to consider the overall shape of the melody. Melisma works best when the melody rises and falls, rather than remaining on a single pitch.

3. Use repetition

Repeating a melismatic phrase can be a powerful tool for adding emphasis to a particular lyric. By repeating the phrase and varying the melody slightly each time, you can create a sense of build and tension in the song.

4. Be mindful of the lyrics

While melisma can add emotion and expression to a song, it’s important to be mindful of the lyrics and ensure that they are still being clearly conveyed. Overuse of melisma can make the lyrics difficult to understand, which can be a distraction for listeners.

5. Practice, practice, practice

As with any vocal technique, melisma requires practice to master. Singers should take the time to warm up their voices and practice the specific melismatic phrases in order to nail them in a performance.

In summary, melisma is a vocal technique that involves singing a single syllable over several notes in a melody. It is a powerful tool for adding emotion and expression to a song, and can be used in a variety of musical styles. By choosing the right syllable, considering the melody, using repetition, being mindful of the lyrics, and practicing, songwriters can effectively incorporate melisma into their songs.

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