Portamento is moving through half steps. Glissando is completely smooth motion that slides between the half steps.

Glissando only applies to instruments where you can play between tones instead of moving in half steps. Non-fretted strings, voice, and brass/wind can glissando and portamento, but fretted strings, percussion, and keyboards can only portamento.

Here's a classic example of a glissando, from "Rhapsody in Blue": youtube.com/watch?v=aEDq3ej7wjE
Last edited by cdgraves at Mar 24, 2013,
No one knows. You can read 30 different sources and get 30 different answers as to the difference. The one fact I can give you is that most modern performers will perform them the same.

I can also tell you I've never heard of the distinction that cdgraves said. The most typical answer is that glissando is a smooth slide between two notes whereas a portamento is more of a sliding into the next note (i.e. you don't slide all the way, you leap up most of the way and then just slide into the upper or lower note a little bit).

But again, the difference is irrelevant so just use glissando for everything. That means a smooth slide between two notes.
whoa! There is a big difference between the two, it's audible performance. The "Rhapsody in Blue" example is the classic clarinet glissando. If he wanted to do a portamento, you've heard each distinct half step all the way, not a continuous whine.

For instruments that can do glissandos, the technique completely different. Reed instruments, for example, do a glissando by slowly uncovering the stops. A portamento would requite a controlled, very fast ascent through each half step.

A violin gliss is just sliding your finger up the neck, which sounds very different from a fast chromatic run.
Here's what Elaine Gould has to say (and we should all listen because she's fucking smart):

The term glissando is used throughout this book as a generic term to describe both a chromatic-step scale between pitches, and a genuine microtonal slide covering all intermediary pitches.

Some schools of thought define glissando as 'to slide chroamtically between pitches' (as on a keyboard or harp). In practice, glissando frequently describes what has often been defined as a portamento: a smooth, microtonal slide, as can be produced on stringed instruments, trombone and so on, and by voices.

The term portamento may be substituted in the following examples where appropriate. However, port. is often intended to indicate an expressive legato slide between two pitches, and the term glissando reserved for a more deliberate continuous slide.

Gardner Read barely addresses the issue and just says that glissando is a "rapid swoop up or down at a tempo so fast that the intermediate pitches are not heard individually." He only mentions portamento once and says that it's a less distinctive sliding.

Adler says basically the same thing as Read: "Portamento, however, constitutes a more natural, expressive method of connecting melody notes that are a great distance apart, and this effect is rarely indicated in the score ... it signifies to the performer to create a minimal slide between the two pitches, whereas gliss usually directs the player to execute the slide with a full volume of sound."

In conclusion I don't know. I never use portamento because it's too ambiguous.
Quote by cdgraves
Portamento is moving through half steps. Glissando is completely smooth motion that slides between the half steps.

Glissando only applies to instruments where you can play between tones instead of moving in half steps. Non-fretted strings, voice, and brass/wind can glissando and portamento, but fretted strings, percussion, and keyboards can only portamento.

Here's a classic example of a glissando, from "Rhapsody in Blue": youtube.com/watch?v=aEDq3ej7wjE

Lol wut... your understanding of portamento is 100% wrong.

Portamento, derived from the term ‘portamento della voce’ (‘carriage of the voice&rsquo is the ‘gradual carrying of the sound or voice with extreme smoothness from one note to another’ (le footnote) The term is used in vocal, string and wind playing.

Maitland, H. J. Fuller-, ‘Portamento’; A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 1883, ed. G. Grove), Vol.3, p.18

(I hated that essay)
Last edited by griffRG7321 at Mar 24, 2013,
Here's some more bed time reading:
In instrumental music the term portamento generally denotes an expressive effect – ‘the emotional connection of two notes’ (Flesch) – produced by members of the violin family and certain wind instruments in emulation of the voice, with the exception of Tessarini's in Grammatica per i principianti di violino (c1745) unusual use of the term to designate violin positions. It gradually gained regular acceptance as an expressive colouring in string playing during the late 18th century and was executed most commonly in solo contexts during upward shifts in slurred bowing, the relevant finger sliding rapidly between the appropriate notes. It became a hallmark of the playing styles of Kreutzer, Rode and Baillot, while Lolli and Mestrino used it in exaggerated fashion (e.g. the ‘couler à Mestrino’, illustrated in Woldemar: Grande méthode ou étude élémentaire pour le violon, Paris, 1798–9). Mestrino's presence at Esterháza (1780–85) may have encouraged Haydn to introduce fingerings suggestive of portamento in some of his string quartets.

The use of portamento increased during the 19th century. Baillot (1834) and Habeneck (c1835) recommended its tasteful introduction, either ascending (with crescendo) or descending (with diminuendo), particularly in slow movements and sustained melodies. Spohr's instructions (1832), supplemented by copious examples, stipulate a rapid finger-slide with the cue-sized note inaudible (ex.1). His approach was shared by most important 19th-century schools of string playing and was closely related to the vocal practice of García (1856). Some later writers interlinked the speed of the slide with considerations of character or mood. Bériot (1858) distinguished three types of port de voix: vif (lively), doux (sweet) and traîné (drawn out). The incidence and the more protracted execution of portamenti in both solo and orchestral contexts increased as a result.

Ex.1 Spohr: Violinschule (1832)

Flesch, among others, reacted strongly against this trend, deploring the overuse of portamento, its slow execution, its introduction for convenient shifting rather than for expressive ends, and the false accents it created. He recommended that portamento usage should coincide as far as possible with the climax of a phrase and stressed the importance of sensitive dynamic shading, considering ‘offensive’ Joachim's frequent, generally slow portamenti with crescendo. Flesch, like Becker and Rynar, advocated three kinds of portamento: a straightforward slide on one finger (ex.2a); ‘B-portamento’, in which the beginning finger slides to an intermediary note (ex.2b); ‘L-portamento’, in which the last finger slides from an intermediate note (ex.2c). The ‘L-portamento’ was rarely practised until the 1930s, when Heifetz used it frequently.

Ex.2 (a) Flesch: Die Kunst des Violinspiels (1923–8); (b) the ‘B-portamento’; (c) the ‘L-portamento’

Portamento underwent a process of gradual refinement in the 20th century, the consensus favouring its selective use and rapid execution with minimum bow pressure. The move by, for example, Flesch, Galamian and Casals to reduce the incidence of formal shifts and cultivate cleaner articulation by introducing novel extensions and contractions, also assisted this process. The onus of adding portamenti gradually passed from performer to composer.

In vocal terminology, the connection of two notes by passing audibly through the intervening pitches. The term ‘portamento della voce’ means ‘carriage of the voice’ and defines an important vocal technique for legato singing already established at the beginning of the 17th century although without a consistent terminology. G.B. Doni (Trattato primo sopra il genere enarmonico, 1635) speaks of ‘dragging [‘strascinare’] the voice little by little, almost imperceptibly, from the low to the high, or the reverse … which is a sort of portamento di voce’. In 1620, Francesco Rognoni (Selva de varii passaggi) uses the phrase ‘portar della voce’ to describe the smooth connection of two notes a step apart ascending, an effect referred to by Christoph Bernhard (Von der Singe-Kunst, oder Maniera, c1649) as Cercar della nota. In French treatises of the same period, this practice is defined as a type of ornament, the Port de voix, where the ‘voice passes flowingly from re to mi as if it pulled the re along while continuing to fill the space of the whole interval’ (MersenneHU).

At the end of the 18th century the term ‘cercar della nota’ (which had primarily referred to the ornamental approach to a note from below by an interval of as large as a 4th) was sometimes used interchangeably with portamento, and beginning in the 19th century the term ‘port de voix’, largely disassociated from its earlier definition as a lower appoggiatura or mordent, became the French equivalent of portamento. In discussing a specific aria, J.C.F. Rellstab (Versuch über die Vereinigung der musikalischen und oratorischen Declamation, 1786) wrote that ‘any good singer’ would employ the ‘cercar della nota’ on its first interval (a rising minor 3rd). This practice of connecting the written notes was to be understood and improvised without notation. J.F. Schubert (Neue Singe-Schule, 1804) noted that ‘we have no sign in music for this melting of tones into one another’, which he too called ‘cercar della nota’, and proposed a simple line between notes. Manuel García (Traité complet de l'art du chant, 1840–44/R) suggested the slur as a sign for the port de voix (or portamento). The written indication ‘con portamento’ also occurs, as in specific passages for the title character in Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer (1843).

Lacking a clear notation, it is difficult to judge where or how often the portamento was used in singing of earlier periods. In about 1824, Richard Mackenzie Bacon wrote that use of portamento, ‘or the lessening the abrupt effects of distant intervals, or smoothing the passage between those less remote, by an inarticulate gliding of the voice from one to the other, whether ascending or descending … is in constant use among Italian singers, and sometimes with beautiful effect’. Domenico Corri (The Singer's Preceptor, 1810) wrote that ‘the portamento della voce is the perfection of vocal music’, allowing for the ‘sliding and blending of one note into another with delicacy and expression’. However, J.F. Schubert considered portamento ‘disgusting and unbearable’ when done in the wrong place, and García warned that ‘in overdoing it, one risks making the execution weak and languid’.

Underlying the issue of appropriate use, and the search for a clear notation, is the question of whether the portamento is an ornament or a continual aspect of good singing. It would seem that what in the 17th century began as an ornament became by the beginning of the 19th a continual effect that was warned against by a growing number of singing masters. By the mid-20th century, the portamento was beginning to be described in derogatory terms as ‘swooping’ or ‘scooping’ (W.J. Henderson, The Art of Singing, 1938), but it is clear from the evidence of early recordings that the tradition of portamento was still strong. Over the course of the 20th century its use has declined radically. Now most often associated with the popular style of singing called ‘crooning’, which has increased the pejorative associations for some, portamento is largely rejected in classical vocal music and opera. This so-called ‘pure’ style of singing, however, has no basis in vocal practice of the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries.

A term generally used as an instruction to execute a passage in a rapid, sliding movement. When applied to playing the piano and the harp, glissando generally refers to the effect obtained not by fingering the key or strings of scales but by sliding rapidly over the relevant keys or strings with the fingernails or the fingertips. Because of the nature of the piano and the harp, every individual tone or semitone of such glissando scales is clearly heard, no matter how rapid the ‘sliding’ (see Harp, §V, 7(iv) (b)). On the other hand, with the voice, violin or trombone, a sliding from one pitch to another is more readily effected without distinguishing any of the intervening notes, a method of sliding which is often called Portamento (see Portamento (i) and (ii)). Other instruments capable of sliding are the clarinet, the horn and the timpani. By their very nature, both types of sliding must be legato and relatively rapid.

In practice, the terms glissando and portamento are often confused and used interchangeably. However, if the distinctions made above are kept, it follows that the piano and the harp, which have fixed semitones, can play glissando but not portamento; and the voice, members of the violin family and the trombone can produce either type of sliding, although glissando is far more difficult for them.

Flesch proposed that glissando be used to mean a technically essential type of violin shift (the shift to be carried out quickly and unobtrusively) and that portamento be used for a type of shift (carried out either slowly or rapidly) intended to heighten the expression. These distinctions, however, have not been universally accepted. In Galamian's terminology, for instance, Flesch's portamento becomes ‘expressive glissando’. Because of the variety and confusion of terms and meanings, Flesch used the term ‘chromatic glissando’ to describe the passage shown in ex.1a in order to make explicit the articulation of each individual semitone.
"the piano and the harp, which have fixed semitones, can play glissando but not portamento; and the voice, members of the violin family and the trombone can produce either type of sliding, although glissando is far more difficult for them."

This is implying that glissando = by semitones & portamento = chromatic notes.

Thanks Zach.
Portamento is basically what a lot of rock/metal guitar players do when they slide into notes.

Glissando, on the other hand, is when there's an emphasis on the sliding sound effect so that the slide is evenly distributed between 2 points.

Any thoughts about microtones or whatever should not enter the equation here...

...modes and scales are still useless.

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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Mar 24, 2013,
TS, who cares what it's actually called. Just pick up a bottleneck or E-Bow, and port or gliss to your hearts content.
This thread is filling me with anxiety for my next semester of music history.
"I am hitting my head against the walls, but the walls are giving way." - Gustav Mahler.

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absolutely what will said

Yay, my first compliment!
I'm having trouble understanding the differences.

This is my current understanding of the differences.

Glissando is more like a direct slide between two notes.
Portamento gets all the notes in between the two notes.

Glissando = C>D
Portamento = C>C#>D

Is this a safe way to look at this?

5 seconds of wikipedia and you have your answer.

Glissando is a general term for both of what you describe. It is generally broken down into two categories:

Discrete glissando: Hitting all the notes in between; this is the sound you get when sliding your finger along a string on a fretted guitar and corresponds to the C -> C# -> D example you gave.

Continuous glissando (portamento): A smooth glide from one pitch to another, i.e. slide guitar.

So you kind of had it backwards... you and the first 4 people to respond to this thread !
This is basically it. If you play around with an synthesizer you can really hear the difference. Many older synths had a "slide/glide feature" which was just portamento, but some had glissando and portamento and you can adjust the speed which makes them very hard to tell apart when done quickly.

9:42 you can hear them using a gliss


Very beginning on the Taurus pedal would be the Moog "glide" portamento feature.

Last edited by bigblockelectra at Mar 28, 2013,