I am an absolute beginner to music theory, and I am starting to study some songs which are free time (ie no time signature).

Looking at this score:


tentatively transcribed from this tune:

I was wondering:

  1. if the "legato" sign towards the beginning is meaningful at all here, being a free-time score?

Wouldn't make more sense to just use a longer note, for the "de" syllable?

  1. Also, listening to the corresponding song (see link above), I was wondering if those glissando notations (the wavy lines) are justified?

Wouldn't a "portamento" or "slur" notation be more proper in this case? I tried to jot down this score, to show what I mean (sorry if it is "not there" yet):

enter image description here

It seems among musician the "glissando" notation is more known, but I would like to know this from the pure vocal music point of view.

Note: This song in particular is from about 1980s, and belong to the Indian tradition of sacred songs (the words are in Bengali).

3 Answers 3


Given the recording, it seems clear that the gliss markings are intended to convey "portamento with vibrato" -- this seems like a reasonable way to notate it, especially if there were footnotes or similar indicating that this is the effect.

To me, the notation of "de-ba-ta" looks good; the "ba" syllable is a pick-up note leading into the ta syllable. Although this is in free time, I'd think of it as: de is on the beat, ba is off of the beat (on an "and") and ta is on the beat. Notating this dotted-half, quarter, dotted half would not capture what is done in the recording where the "ba" is significantly shorter than, e.g. the ji-ban syllables at the beginning.

  • Thank you so much, that is quite helpful. Just to clarify, would it still be all right to have portamento markings, instead of the gliss markings, if adding proper footnotes specifying "portamento with vibrato"? I am asking because a professional classical singer I know (ie performing regularly) was a little confused by the meaning of the gliss markings in this case, while the portamento or slur marking was conveying the concept better to him.
    – gsl
    Dec 24, 2014 at 15:13
  • For the de we have a half note tied (this is not a legato slur even though the symbology is the same) to an eighth note, indicating that the de is sustained until the ba syllable, which occurs off of the beat.
    – Dave
    Dec 24, 2014 at 15:18

While "portamento" and "glissando" certainly mean different things, in everyday musical usage a rather large number of people use 'gliss' for a portamento sound. Sometimes you just have to decide which is a better fit to the piece of music in question, taking in mind the time period when it was composed as well as the 'mood' of the piece.

In this particular sound sample, it sounds rather more like a heavy vibrato rather than either a gliss or portamento to the following pitch. YMMV :-)

  • Thank you for pointing to the 'vibrato' option. What would you think of the legato notation between "de" and "ba" syllables, at the beginning? Is that necessary at all, being that free-time music?
    – gsl
    Dec 24, 2014 at 14:34

The curve sign is not a "legato slur", but a "tie". Even if the song is written in free time, it doesn't mean that the song has no rhythmic structure. "ba" of "de-ba-ta" is off beat and prepares for the "ta". And "de" is still part of the same word.

  • Thank you for the clarification. I will vote up your answer, as quite helpful, but I still not have enough score. I will do it when I have, though. Thanks.
    – gsl
    Jan 22, 2015 at 8:30

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