AskDefine | Define portamento

User Contributed Dictionary



From portamento#Italian, from portare.


  • (UK) /pɔːtəˈmɛntəʊ/


  1. A smooth, gliding transition from one note to another; used especially with stringed instruments, and sometimes on brass.
    • 2006, Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Vintage 2007, p. 945:
      The music was feral, Eastern in scale, flattened seconds and sixths, and a kind of fretless portamento between




Extensive Definition

Portamento is a musical term primarily denoting a vocal slide between two pitches and its emulation by instruments such as the violin, and in 16th century polyphonic writing refers to an ornamental figure. It is also applied to one type of glissando as well as to the "slide" or "bend" functions of synthesizers. (see main article glissando).

Vocal portamento

Image:portamenti.png In the first example, Rudolfo's first aria in La sonnambula (1831), the portamento is indicated by the slur between the 3rd and 4th notes. The second example, Judit's first line in Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1912), employs a more explicit notation.


In 16th century style, portamento is an anticipation figure, occurring on the off-beat. The portamento resolves stepwise, almost always downward. It may occur either once or multiple times in succession.
In multi-voice polyphony, the portamento figure is normally consonant. This embellishment is frequently found ornamenting suspensions, though almost never at the final cadence.

See also

  • A glissando is a similar effect to portamento which moves in discrete steps; for example, dragging a finger over the keys of the piano.
  • Vibrato is a repetitive oscillation about a single pitch that occurs in rapid cycles.
  • Portato is a musical term denoting an articulation.


  • Katz, Mark. “Portamento and the Phonograph Effect.” Journal of Musicological Research 25 (2006): 211–32.
portamento in Spanish: Portamento
portamento in Italian: Portamento
portamento in Hebrew: פורטמנטו
portamento in Dutch: Portamento
portamento in Japanese: ポルタメント
portamento in Polish: Portamento
portamento in Simple English: Portamento
portamento in Swedish: Pitchbend
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