Saturday, February 12, 2011


Ran across this post which really touched on one of my big pet peeves when it comes to singers. There are words for these things, thank you John Eskow. I love finding a new word or two.

The first new word I learned there was melisma, which is defined as the bending of syllables for bluesy or soulful effect. Melisma is great, but like anything it can be abused. I like his graphic descriptions of such abuse, such as "17 different notes for every vocal syllable."
You will hear more of this tonsil-twisting insincerity -- to your eternal sorrow -- if you watch any episode of American Idol.

The great Jerry Wexler -- who produced both Ray and Aretha -- coined a great term for it: "oversouling." He described it as "the gratuitous and confected melisma" that hollows out a song and drains it of meaning. Wexler, who knew more about soul than any producer before or since, said:

"Time and again I have found that flagrantly artificial attempts at melisma are either a substitute for real fire and passion or a cover-up for not knowing the melody... Please, learn the song first, and then sing it from the heart."

I've never seen more than a few minutes of American Idol, and I have heard modern mainstream pop music and country music (sometimes it's hard to tell them apart) and really don't find it to be memorable or interesting at all.

Here's a good unintentional sampling of this style. I want to add that these women all have fantastic and amazing voices. It's just an influential style of singing that more and more singers are choosing, even ones that already have a different established style in some cases.

It's like shredding on an electric guitar.

weedly deedly deedly deedly deedly weedly deedly weedly deedly deedly deedly WEEEEEEEEEEEE

It'll win the contest for notes per minute.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

"Oversouling" and "melisma" -- new to me too! Thanks! I was just calling that particularly irritating vocal style "oversinging." And you're right -- American Idol is wall-to-wall oversouling.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

P.S. Love the new header!

Blueberry said...

I was looking for a word for it too, would probably have settled for "diva-yodeling" or "just pick a note and go with it." ;-)


I hate it what ever it is called..and love your header.

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Blueberry said...

That mural cat on the header looks photoshopped, I know, but the only retouched part of the picture is I pixelated the car's license plate.

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