And, inevitably, there is the Soulful Syllable Stretch. The Soulful Syllable Stretch involves elongating words with flashy arpeggios and trills: "love" becomes "lo-oh-ho-HEY-ah-ho-HO-ho-hoooooooOOOOOOOOVE!" A Soulful Syllable Stretch Grand Mistress, such as Beyoncé Knowles of Destinys Child, can make one word last a week. Keys alternates Soulful Syllable Stretches with pregnant pauses. How Come You Don't Call Me? is so rife with the latter, you suspect the involvement of Harold Pinter.
When it comes to singing, there are basically two approaches you can take: syllabic or melismatic.
means that if you have lyrics, each syllable gets one note. Pretty straightforward enough. In fact, it's so straightforward it's basically the universal way of singing.
This also includes the songs where for a certain syllable the note sung goes through a bit of tremolo, or there's a glissando between one syllable and the next one. You can throw in flourishes if you want, but the rule of thumb remains "one syllable = one note".
means that you hold down one syllable while moving through several notes. This is called melisma
. It's very common in religious, Arab, Middle Eastern, African, Balkan, Indian and various other types of music, especially Folk
music (such as the Portuguese genre Fado).
Melisma migrated over to pop music at some indistinct point (credit for popularising it varies between Stevie Wonder
, Mariah Carey
or some others), and now it's pretty common in R&B or R&B-influenced pop music. Remember Whitney Houston
's "I Will Always Love You"? That's melisma.note
It's easy to see why it ended up in pop music: used properly it can have a great effect. The only problem is that there have been many singers recently who just blindly abuse it to lend their songs some sort of "soulfulness" or whatever, and it just becomes annoying, as demonstrated by the above quote. A frequent way to deride these singers is to note that they take simple words like "yeah", "I" or "whoa" and stretch it to something like over 9000
syllables. But the real problem is that some artists don't have the skill or vocal range to actually pull it off.
Some singers who practise melisma also often sing Incredibly Long Notes
, such as Whitney Houston
. However, another criticism levelled at melisma is that singers who can't
pull off Incredibly Long Notes sometimes use the technique to give the illusion that they are doing so; stretching the syllable out without having to actually hold a particular note for very long.
More info about the abuse of this technique can be found here
People who love melisma: