Acting in Plays, Singing/Legato


QUESTION: Is Legato the official term for when someone kind of glides through notes without really "hitting" any of them? If so, how can that be used as a verb?

ANSWER: Hi, James –

Thank you for the question.

The term “legato” is not a verb. It is either a noun, adverb or adjective.

Think of a 5-tone scale played back and forth on the piano. Each note is separate and distinct. The violinist can choose to “slide” between one specific tone to the next as can the trombonist. But the piano cannot.

Your usage of the word “glide” would fit the sound of a siren, i.e., the slur of tones between the lowest pitch and the highest pitch of the warning siren made by a police car, fire truck, or an air raid alert. The singer can imitate that siren, that blur of tones.

A choral director might admonish you for “scooping”.

As a singer, if you were told to improve your “legato” – for example, on that ascending and descending 5-tone scale in a certain tempo and beat, etc. – that would mean you need to be more distinct from one pitch to the next. No blurring the edges between each of the tones.

In other words, when singing that 5-tone scale on the vowel “ah” (as in “hot”) as opposed to using the distinct syllables of “do-re-mi-fa-so” — the effect must be as clear and distinct.

Every singer needs to learn how to do that.

My job as a professional vocal coach is to show you how.

If I’m on the panel at your next singing audition and like your prepared song but have doubts about your overall musicianship, then I’m going to ask you to sing a few scales throughout your entire range. If you siren back and forth through any of them, if the tones are not precise and the scales lack phrasing – the Conductor may interrupt you with, “Thank you. Next.”

I am a vocal coach to working singers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I'm also a music critic for – and – Let me know when you're ready to come to San Francisco for some vocal coaching. I’m also available for lessons on Skype.

Below are links to my articles and interviews:

Audra McDonald joins San Francisco Symphony in Opening Night Gala

Introducing Cheyenne Jackson and Alexandra Silber as San Francisco Symphony’s Tony & Maria in “West Side Story”

THE GERSHWINS AND ME – A Conversation with Michael Feinstein

'Dolores Claiborne' - Patricia Racette & Catherine Cook replace Dolora Zajick

A Conversation with Ted Neeley, Hollywood’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

On ‘Billy Budd’—A Trio from Merola: Alex DeSocio, Thomas Richards, Robert Watson

Lawrence Brownlee—On ‘Carmina Burana’, with the SFSymphony—Tuesday, July 30th

On “The Joyless Street” at the Silent Film Festival—An Interview with Matti Bye

Nathan Gunn Is ‘Yeshua’ in San Francisco Opera’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene”

Natalie Dessay on ‘Becoming Traviata’—French Soprano bids ‘Adieu’ to opera stage

‘Tales of Hoffmann’ Fizzles at San Francisco Opera

‘A Grand Romance’—A Spectacular CD from pianist Jeffrey Biegel

Philippe Sly Debuts In 'Cosi fan tutte' at San Francisco Opera

Nicole Henry redefines the '70s with her latest CD, 'So Good, So Right'

'FILLY BROWN' — An Extraordinary Film from Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos

Nonsemble 6 presents Schoenberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire' – in corsets

Tenor Noah Stewart Debuts with Berkeley Symphony in World Premiere of New Work by Steven Stucky

Marnie Breckenridege, A Modern Soprano for Contemporary Opera

A Profile of Choreographer John Neumeier and his "Nijinsky"

In Conversation with Peter Gallagher – Coming to the Venetian Room

Melody Moore steps into Tosca — Opening Night at San Francisco Opera

'Moby-Dick' opens at San Francisco Opera: A Conversation with Composer Jake Heggie

'Drama Queens' – A Conversation with Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato

Marco Vratogna Is Sensational as Rigoletto at San Francisco Opera

A conversation with Joshua Bell, featured guest artist at opening of SF Symphony, 9/19

Samuel Ramey is Leo the Great in San Francisco Opera's 'Attila'

Tom Judson Is Making It Big In San Francisco

A Look at Gennadi Nedvigin, Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet

Organist Christopher Houlihan Makes A Powerful Debut at Davies Symphony Hall

RICHARD WINSOR – An Interview With the Star of 'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D'

DEANNA DURBIN – The Leading Lady of NOIR CITY, Wednesday at The Castro Theatre

CUBAN BALLET – An Interview with Octavio Roca

A Look At "Giselle" with Ballerina Lorena Feijóo

ZUILL BAILEY – A Conversation

Best regards,
Sean Martinfield

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So what is the appropriate word for when someone flurries through notes instead of slowly addressing each one? It seems common in music today that there is one note that would be perfect at a certain time in a song and the singer will bounce around braggingly without even hitting that note (and likely doing a poor job making it sound like they can sing at all). It seems like popular "professional" singers lack the vocal strength to hit one note at a time and make it sound good.

Hi, James --

The word which refers to that most-often indistinct “flurry” of notes used by many contemporary Pop artists is: melisma.

You are absolutely correct in your assessment of how a lot of it comes across. When it's sloppy and vague it raises all kinds of very reasonable questions as to WHY it is done and what it’s meant to accomplish.

The Answer starts with the Producer and whatever it is they want to do to put money in their pockets. Simple.

All YOU have to do is simply say “NO!” and not listen to stuff that causes you this kind of frustration.

I’ve been around long enough to see how the music industry has changed over the years -- particularly as it effects the Top 10 sellers (this week, last week, next week) in every category of Pop music. That is what contemporary Pop music is and does and it is never going to change. There will always be some new singer fast on the heels of whoever is IN right now and with some other twinge of appeal -- always sexual -- to replace whoever is hot and sexy right now. That’s just the way it is.

The good news is that there are other forms of musical entertainment. As a classical music critic for, I spent this past week at the season’s opening night Galas of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera. I live about 10 minutes away from the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall. It is my privilege to be able to walk to work -- to see and interview the greatest musicians in the world who perform in these magnificent environments. Experiences and memories like these can last a lifetime.

When you have a few minutes to spare, you might want to check out the Classical world -- particularly about this “melisma” thing. Here, in a more disciplined art form, it is referred to as “coloratura” or “fioratura”. Check out these two examples on YouTube. It is the aria “Sempre libera” from the opera LA TRAVIATA. Both are live performances,  sung by two very different varieties of a soprano -- one in solo concert, the other in an excerpt (with companion tenor Rolando Villazon) from the complete work as broadcast by the Metropolitan Opera.

Anna Netrebko:
Natalie Dessay:

Then check out my interview with Natalie Dessay:
Natalie Dessay on ‘Becoming Traviata’—French Soprano bids ‘Adieu’ to opera stage

This is not to say that Classical music is ‘better’. It’s only to suggest that there are other musical artists in the world who can provide you more answers and different perspectives.

I wish you the best.

Sean Martinfield

Acting in Plays, Singing

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Sean Martinfield


I am a professional vocal coach in San Francisco. I have published over 3300 responses related to vocal training - particularly as it relates to Musical Theatre, Pop/Standard, and Opera. I have 30 years of experience as a personal trainer to working singers and actors in the San Francisco Bay Area. I sang professionally for 20 years and know what it means to live the life of a musician. I can determine your voice category, i.e., Tenor, Baritone, Bass, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Alto Belter, etc., and how to broaden and strengthen your range. Need an audition song for a Broadway Musical? I can assist you with your song selections and help you build an audition portfolio that demonstrates your vocal category and meets the requirements specified in the audition notice. I have created a vocal methodology, "The Belter`s Method". It will enable those in Cabaret and Musical Theatre to practice more efficiently because it focuses on the vocal demands of professional performers and will keep you performance-ready. If what you want is a better voice and more control over your career moves and choices, contact me at: I am also a music and cultural critic for and I interview internationally recognized musicians, singers, dancers, and recording artists -- particularly those who are now appearing or scheduled to perform in San Francisco.


As a vocal coach, I work primarily with singers and actors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. My students range from absolute beginners to working professionals, from kids to senior citizens. The vast majority of my clients come to me through recommendation. I know how to identify any singer's vocal category, i.e., soprano, tenor, alto, baritone, etc. I know how to muscle-up every singer's vocal range and to expand it beyond conventional definitions. I have developed a vocal methodology for those who want to know how to belt, THE BELTER'S METHOD. There are a number of major components to my work as a vocal coach. The first is to identify the client's vocal category and to strengthen and maximize the vocal range accordingly. Then it's about teaching a reliable vocal workout that will enable the client to gain better control of their musicianship. That includes scale work to expand the vocal range and to improve placement, breath control, and diction. Then we work on material for the audition portfolio, the immediate job or assignment, a recording session, etc. My task to is to better equip singers and actors who are hoping to or relying upon their performance skills and vocal endurance to maintain a career in the Performing Arts. My clients regularly appear in cabarets and musical productions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Some have worked in New York and gone on National Tours. For more information, Contact me at:


San Francisco State University – BA in Theatre Arts; graduate work in Theatre, Philosophy, and Comparative Reiligion. Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley – Graduate work in Ethics

©2016 All rights reserved.