When the performance direction is "cantabile" one must supposedly play it in a song-like manner, but how do I implement it in my playing? Is it just the nature of the piece that will do the work or do I have to add something more to my playing?

Also, technically speaking how can an instrument imitate human voice? Since I'm learning the violin, what should I do in that context? Do I change something about my bowstrokes? Add a lot of vibrato? Play tempo rubato? Also, can I do anything the music sheet hasn't directed me to do? For example playing legato is indeed an important component of cantabile playing but I can't slur all the notes, only the ones that are specified by the slur marks. So, simply playing legato (which is already covered by the score) should not be the answer, unless the nature of the piece makes it cantabile and the musician need not add anything to it (which I don't think is the case)


Well, it is a vague instruction so there is a lot of freedom in interpreting it.

For me, it means making use of the full bow length, being in charge of the expression, developing particularly the long notes (which means that you don't just start them and then some time later they end and nothing happens in between) with an organic quality of dynamic, bow pressure and speed and also an oragnically unfolding decent amount of vibrato (being able to control both its speed and depth rather than just having one kind of involuntary tremor at one's disposal helps). There might also be a slight amount of rubato where the melodic stresses tend to coincide with some slight prolongation of notes.

And so forth and so on. Basically the execution is tied to the musicality of the phrases.

Continuous controlled instruments like wind and bellow instruments and bowed instruments have more means at their disposal than percussive instruments like a piano. So it's also instructive to see what a good piano player does when confronted with "cantabile": most of that will still provide some inspiration to the bigger toolbox of the continuous-control instruments.

  • "where the melodic stresses tend to coincide with some slight prolongation of notes." You totally lost me there. Could you please elaborate on that? Jan 22 '15 at 10:27

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-cantabile-mean.htm says:.

..in order to have a singing quality, the performer needed to execute the music with expression, flexibility and an overall sense of naturalness. The idea was to convey as much humanness and drama through the line as possible, even if the music was not for the voice.

You need to play Legatto and with expression. Both WiseGeek and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantabile says so.

Performance Practice: A Dictionary-Guide for Musicians: A Dictionary-Guide says that it is of moderately slow tempo.

Adams' new musical dictionary of fifteen thousand technical words, phrases says:

... smooth, elegant and replete with feeling.

That sounds like legato to me.

edit: ... but Digging deeper it looks like this answer is be less than accurate... Even though it is supported elsewhere. see comments.

  • 1
    Well if wikipedia says so who am I to say otherwise.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 21 '15 at 19:58
  • Wikipedia says portato is "..,known as articulated legato or slurred staccato"
    – amalgamate
    Jan 21 '15 at 20:52
  • @NeilMeyer You might be right after all... the he Harvard Dictionary of Music says that a loure or portato is similar to cantable "...Several notes seperated slightly within a slur." I would consider restoring your answer.
    – amalgamate
    Jan 22 '15 at 0:50
  • @amalgamate - if you have found your answer to be wrong, you should delete it. Also, the word is spelled "legato". Jan 22 '15 at 2:51
  • @jjmusicnotes: I'm giving NeilMeyer or who ever it was that posted and deleted the answer that appears to be correct, a chance to restore their correct answer. A kind of courtesy, if you will. Also, there appears an inconsistency in the use of the term, where my answer may be correct sometimes but just not the most correct or most accurate.
    – amalgamate
    Jan 22 '15 at 15:25

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