me·​lis·​ma mi-ˈliz-mə How to pronounce melisma (audio)
plural melismata mi-ˈliz-mə-tə How to pronounce melisma (audio)
: a group of notes or tones sung on one syllable in plainsong
: melodic embellishment
melismatic adjective

Examples of melisma in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web And this cast sings the score as if it is embedded in their very DNA, with all the tonal shifts, subtle shadings, deft harmonies and tricky melismas delivered with virtuosic panache. Rod Stafford Hagwood, Sun Sentinel, 10 Jan. 2024 All of Opera Neo’s singers understand the dramatic details of Handel’s vocal writing, in which melismas become emotional flourishes, alternatively celebratory, spiteful, pathetic. Luke Schulze, San Diego Union-Tribune, 10 July 2023 Her impassioned flow — which navigates through whirling R&B melismas and fiery rap bars — and endearing personality shined through early in the series. Ingrid Fajardo, Billboard, 10 May 2023 The most obvious comparison with Joy is Vaughan herself — the rich lower register, the baroque melodic ornamentation, swoops up and down octaves from word to word, multi-note melisma stretching one-syllable words to infinity. Jon Garelick,, 17 Sep. 2022 Sullivan has developed into a poised if still sassy front person, reclaiming Mariah Carey-style melisma as a key part of her impressive vocals. David Browne, Rolling Stone, 13 June 2022 In the place of the Mariah Carey melisma that young vocalists often try to use to prove their chops, a lot of the newbie emcees attempt the high-speed, rat-a-tat delivery of rappers like Twista and Eminem. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 9 Oct. 2019 But, even beyond Simone’s lyrics, her integrative technique itself—her use of gospel piano, blues melisma, classical riffs—refutes myths of black deprivation. Emily Lordi, The New Yorker, 12 Aug. 2019 Franklin’s four-octave range and mastery of melisma made her a force to be reckoned with both on record and on the stage. Naima Cochrane, Vox, 16 Aug. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'melisma.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


New Latin, from Greek, song, melody, from melizein to sing, from melos song

First Known Use

1837, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of melisma was in 1837

Dictionary Entries Near melisma

Cite this Entry

“Melisma.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on melisma

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!