Pitch bending

This article is about the musical term. For the album, see Portamento (album).

Portamento (plural: portamenti, a noun meaning literally "carriage" or "carrying") is a musical term that describes pitch sliding from one note to another. The term originated from the Italian expression "portamento della voce" (carriage of the voice), denoting from the beginning of the 17th century its use in vocal performances[1] and its emulation by members of the violin family and certain wind instruments,[2] and is sometimes used interchangeably with anticipation.[3] It is also applied to one type of glissando as well as to the "glide" function of synthesizers.

Vocal portamento

In the first example, Rodolfo's first aria in La Sonnambula (1831), the portamento is indicated by the slur between the 3rd and 4th notes. The second example, Judit's first line in Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1912), employs a short, straight line between the fourth and fifth notes to indicate a steady rise in pitch. If the composer desired the pitches to be, variously, raised and lowered between those two notes, the wavy line would additionally be curvy, conveying an approximation of the pitches intended. Portamento may, of course, also be used for descending intervals.

Opinions of vocal portamento

Although portamento continued to be widely used in popular music, it was disapproved of for operatic singing by many critics in the 1920s and 1930s as a sign of either poor technique, or of bad taste, a mark of cheap sentimentalism or showiness.[4] This is not valid criticism of a performer when portamento is explicitly specified in the score or is otherwise appropriate. However, when there is no such specification, the singer is expected to be able to move crisply from note to note without any slurring or "scooping".[5]

See also



  • Benjamin, Thomas. 2005. The Craft of Modal Counterpoint: A Practical Approach, second edition. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97171-3 (cloth); ISBN 0-415-97172-1 (pbk).
  • Harris, Ellen T. "Portamento (i)". 2001. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Jeppesen, Knud. 1946. The Style of Palestrina and the Dissonance, translated by Margaret Williams Hamerik, second revised and enlarged edition. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard Publisher; London: Geoffrey Cumberlege; Oxford University Press. Reprinted, Minneola, NY: Dover Publications, 2005. ISBN 0-486-44268-3.
  • Merritt, Arthur Tillman. 1939. Sixteenth Century Polyphony: A Basic for the Study of Counterpoint. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Potter, John. 2006. "Beggar at the Door: The Rise and Fall of Portamento in Singing". Music and Letters 87:523–50.
  • Schenker, Heinrich. 2001. Counterpoint: A Translation of Kontrapunkt, by Heinrich Schenker: Volume II of New Musical Theories and Fantasies. Book 1: Cantus Firmus and Two-Voice Counterpoint, translated by John Rothgeb and Jürgen Thym, edited by John Rothgeb. Ann Arbor: Musicalia Press. 0-967-8099-1-6.
  • Stewart, Robert. 1994. Introduction to 16th Century Counterpoint and Palestrina's Musical Style. Ardsley House Pub. ISBN 978-1-880157-07-7.
  • Stowell, Robin. 2001. "Portamento (ii)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

Further reading

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