I made this sound with my synthesized flute

There are three in this particular snippet. I did this by draggging a slider button up and down that allows me to move smoothly between different pitches.

I want to notate this in sheet music now however and I'm not sure what to put down.

My Question

How do I notate a 'wailing' sound?

I've heard this kind of thing plenty of times before when people improvise, so I suspect there's a way to do it.

  • @joseem's answer is great. I think the squiggly lines on the staff make the most sense. Are you notating this music on a classical western staff?
    – sova
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 23:33
  • Yes. Its supposed to be Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 0:33
  • Curiously, the "squiggly" line is a glissando in music notation, which is not exactly the same as a portamento (for example a glissando in a piano would be a scale played extremely rapidly or even raking the fingers across the keys, producing an effect almost like, but not quite, a true portamento). For that reason I did not mention glissando in my answer below, but of course it can also be used, as did the transcriber of the Tangerine Dream piece. I agree with leftaroundabout's comment below, though, and would rather recommend the oblique straight line. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 15:53

1 Answer 1


In classical terminology portamento would probably be the most appropriate naming for the effect you wish to notate, and the notation for that is a slur connecting the notes in the "gliding" range extremities. A curved slur is the most common form of notation:

enter image description here

In some instruments that allow for portamento, like the trombone and timpani, a slur may imply portamento. In other instruments it may have specific meanings (like the bowings in bowed string instruments) or just mean to play legato (like in the piano). [thanks to @leftaroundabout for the improvement of this paragraph].

However I have also seen used an oblique "straight" slur (I'm not sure if it's still called a slur if it is a straight line) to indicate portamento, in situations where the round slur could be misinterpreted as a portamento when it was meant as legato.

enter image description here

The simultaneous use of the slur and "straight" line also can be used (as I understand it is used mostly with bow instruments, as the slur on it's own is used to indicate the intended bowing).

enter image description here

Any way, these are only suggestions. Your piece is specific and uses specific technology that may not be possible to notate (to your satisfaction, as notation is always an aproximation). So you should feel free to adapt, adopt, or develop your own form of notation, as many composers have done.

Just as an example of a possible approach to transcribing a synthesizer piece I include here a few excerpts of a transcription for a Tangerine Dream piece (Choronzon, from the 1981 album Exit). As can seen a combination of music notation, suggestive graphic signs and text indications is used. (I expect the inclusion of these small clips is considered fair use and does not infringe on copyright)

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • 2
    Great answer, though I wonder whence you procure that “general rule” of slurs automatically implying legato if possible on the instrument. As you say yourself, this is not the case for bowed string instruments, nor on woodwinds (which are more limited in portamento range, but e.g. oboe could certainly implement many half-tone slurs as portamenti), nor on guitar or keyboards with pitch-bending capability. In fact, trombone and timpani seem about the only instruments where slurs are commonly understood as portamenti! So, I'd definitely put the oblique-line notation as first recommendation. Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 22:53
  • leftaroundabout, I got the information from an old notation manual, but my main instrument is the piano and I may have generalized too much the case of the remaining instruments. I'll edit and try to improve the answer as per your comment. Thanks a lot for it! Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 23:02
  • A slur in guitar music COULD be played portamento, as in a bend, or as a slide, or as a hammer-on/pull-off - assuming the pitch difference is less than, say, four frets. Or even as a combination of these.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 8:37
  • A slur on guitar and indeed, most (all?) instruments means legato, It never means slide or bend. Slide and bend each have distinct markings themselves.
    – Andrew G
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 9:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.