Teacher always told me there's a difference but I still don't understand the difference. The textbook says "Melisma and lick have the same meaning but are appropriate to different styles of music". So what's the difference?

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    "Melisma and lick have the same meaning"..? Time for a new textbook... Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 8:14
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    They have the "same meaning" in the sense that they are each a short series of notes that provide brief musical interest beyond that of the melodic line. Their implementations are quite different, however. Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


"Melisma" and "Lick" are essentially unrelated. A "melisma" is a series of notes all sung to the same syllable. A "lick" is a short musical idea, typically used in improvisational music, that can serve as a showy moment or as a motif within the music.

Where your textbook is accurate is that the two terms tend to be used to describe different styles of music. "Melisma" is used more in relation to classical music; "Lick" is used more in jazz, blues, and rock (i.e., improvised music). But they aren't exclusive to those styles, particularly "melisma".

Here is a video showing melismatic singing about a few contemporary, popular singers:

And here is some melisma in a classical setting:

Here are some licks...

...in jazz

...in rock

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    I would argue, too, that while "melisma" is (obviously) strictly vocal, "lick" is strictly instrumental. At least I've certainly never heard a vocalist talk about a particular "lick."
    – Richard
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 5:11
  • Oh I see! I feel so dumb haha. But I get it now. It's just because I've heard of vocal licks which sound very similar to Melisma.
    – Maya
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 10:22
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    @Maya That's very possible. A vocal lick (but see Richard's comment) could certainly be melismatic.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 11:26

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