I'm in the process of transcribing Just Like Heaven by The Cure from audio to notation.

The lead singer Robert Smith has a vocal style where he doesn't seem to hold a pitch for long before sliding to the next one.

Is there a name for that vocal delivery style? If not, what performance direction should I write for the performer of the vocal line?

  • portamento?…….. Commented Feb 5 at 0:16
  • I also hear dips in support/volume between notes and at the ends of phrases, rather than being sung with a smooth connected tone.
    – Edward
    Commented Feb 5 at 0:44
  • 'Robert Smith style'?
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 5 at 8:02
  • 1
    You can notate some of these things, but this typically leads to mixed results: is the rate of portamento constant? At what point does a given slide begin or end? If there is a microtonal pitch inflection, how many cents does the pitch deviate from the reference pitch? If you can work all of that out, will the people performing your transcription be able to realize these details accurately? If your goal is to get someone to sing the song similarly to Robert Smith, I'd agree with @Tim and perhaps even suggest that they listen to the specific recording you're working from.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 5 at 8:32

1 Answer 1


Smith is singing with an extended portamento style. If you want to be precise, you can use a slur symbol between notes (but be warned, a slur between more than two notes will be read as legato or phrasing). He also slides down at the end of some phrases, which you can probably notate as a downward slur to a grace note on the end pitch.

However, the vocals on this piece are incredibly complex and will probably take you a lot of time, and you will likely never be able to fully re-create the vocals with another singer even with accurate notation due to the microtonality inherent in his style.

What is the end result you want? Ask yourself if you want to pay homage to Smith's vocals, or if you want to take them as inspiration only. Most singers spend years developing their own unique styles, and might find a score more accessible if you give them a more simple framework which they can add their own flair to.

If it's the former, I agree with @phoog: get the singer to listen to the track and learn the intricacies by rote (singers are trained in being able to pitch-match and will be able to follow the microtonal shifts more accurately than you can probably notate).

If it's the latter, I'd use his melody as well as the harmonic information in the instrumentals as a guide and write out a simple melody, possibly using stylistic text notation like "portamento", "ad libitum", "freely", etc., at the beginning.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful answer. The performer is going to be a trombonist - I think they'll cope better with the portamento. Commented Feb 5 at 13:21
  • "but be warned, a slur between more than two notes will be read as legato or phrasing": this can also happen even if there are only two notes. Such a slur could also be read as specifying text underlay (if it happens to coincide with the text underlay), which is traditionally the primary purpose of slurs in vocal music. A common error of interpretation in vocal and choral music is to misinterpret text underlay slurs as phrasing marks.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 5 at 13:45
  • @BrianTHOMAS a trombonist is going to be even more likely than a singer to interpret a slur as an articulation mark rather than a portamento. I'd be inclined to use a line in the staff for portamento of a second or more (I might attempt to indicate the rate of portamento with curvature, but that might be confusing) along with the word portamento.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 5 at 13:50
  • @BrianTHOMAS Building on some of the ideas here: As someone who's sometimes tried to "cover" a very stylistic singer as an instrumental line, sometimes the result just sounds goofy. Sometimes the solution is just to lean in to the notion that you've "arranged" the song, and let the instrument speak as it does most naturally. Another philosophical point is about the balance between composer's (/arranger's) agency and performer's. Sometimes there are diminishing returns as we attempt to dictate the finer points of style; the more we try to spell it out, the more... Commented Feb 5 at 14:00
  • ... the more we get something awkward and different. Sometimes it's best to just give some explanatory notes, point the performer toward an inspiration, and then wash one's hands, sit back, and accept the fact that anyone can make whatever they want of your work. Commented Feb 5 at 14:02

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