Definition of melisma in US English:



  • A group of notes sung to one syllable of text.

    ‘the melismas of plainchant’
    mass noun ‘the most poetic words can be given more emotive power by using melisma’
    • ‘The melisma is a transposition of the notes E, F, C and B, and it appears frequently throughout the work.’
    • ‘The solo viola engages in some exotic melismas in this movement too.’
    • ‘The opulent, yet bright orchestration and the chromatic melismata around the tritone and the melodic minor scale all point toward the composer of Schelomo.’
    • ‘The vocal lines, tailored to the soprano voice of Heidi Grant Murphy, are characterized by wide pitch fluctuations, melismas, and extrapolated sounds.’
    • ‘A successful production of Poppea depends not upon operatic voices but upon singing actors who can color their voices and make drama out of the expressive melismas and coloratura.’


Late 19th century: from Greek, literally ‘melody’.