Here's some examples of what I mean:

A chiptune song's lead synth (@ 0:31)

A song from Touhou (@ 0:51)

Is there a general term for this? Is the term for the vocals version different to the term for the lead synth version?


  • 2
    Sorry, I am afraid I don't understand what you are referring to specifically. Could you try and explain it in some different words?
    – sova
    Feb 13, 2016 at 20:01
  • 1
    This question could be improved by including a written description, as best you can, of what the aural effect you're asking about is.
    – Dave
    Feb 13, 2016 at 20:55
  • 1
    Do you mean rapidly "sliding" from one pitch to another or having two different pitches playing at the same time? Feb 13, 2016 at 21:02

1 Answer 1


In terms of electronic music, the term "pitch bend" is probably the most common, easily understood, and appropriate term for both cases.

In a more classical/formal context, the musical term for this kind of continuous variation in pitch is portamento, which applies whether it is fast (as in your examples) or slow. This term applies to all musical instruments that allow continuous pitch variation, including voice. Sometimes the term glissando is used though this latter term usually indicated that you hit a set of closely-spaced discrete notes. The usual example of this is sweeping your hand along a piano keyboard. As an illustration of the difference between these general music terms in terms of synths, portamento is what you get if you mess with a pitch bend wheel, and glissando is what you get when you drag your finger across the keyboard.

Note that glissando and portamento usually involve going in only one direction (up or down). Your second, vocal, example returns to the original pitch, so these terms might not be the best to use (pitch bend should work fine though). The term melisma is particularly appropriate for this kind decoration in vocals.

  • 1
    I could hear portamento in the synth example and that was going to be my answer... but then I couldn't spot it in the vocal one (in which I could hear something more like the auto-tune pitch jumping effect) Feb 13, 2016 at 21:00
  • "Bending" is another word used for this, especially for some instruments and genres like harmonica and guitar in blues and rock. "Slide" and "glide" are sometimes used, again depending on the situation. Feb 13, 2016 at 21:04
  • portamento is what you get if you mess with a mod-wheel - in synth-jargon specifically, portamento tends to be used more specifically to describe a setting of the synth voice that causes the pitch to glide without the player needing to touch the pitch bend or mod wheel (sometimes this can be set to only happen with legato playing) Feb 13, 2016 at 21:05
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    Most synths have both a mod wheel for controlling modulation depth (LFO amount, etc) and pitch bend controller which is a separate controller with different physical behavior. As there is usually a dedicated pitch controller, the mod wheel is very rarely used to change pitch. Topo is spot on regarding the glide function, Which is separate from pitch bend in midi terms but both affect the same voltage in vintage CV/modular terms. Feb 13, 2016 at 22:21
  • @ToddWilcox on some synths the control wheels are re-assignable, on some synths one is dedicated to pitch bend. I thought that the term "mod-wheel" was an appropriate generic term for this kind of wheel controller, whatever function they are assigned to.
    – Dave
    Feb 14, 2016 at 2:31

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