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Glissando Vs Arpeggio Vs Portamento: What’s the Difference Between Them?

Glissando Vs Arpeggio Vs Portamento: What’s the Difference Between Them?

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There are several terms that create the foundation of a successful musician’s technical vocabulary. In this article, we are going to discuss the difference between three terms that all have to do with moving from one note to the next: glissando, portamento, and arpeggio. After reading, you should have enough info to identify them the next time you hear one in a song.

For more music theory fundamentals and other useful musical terms, click the button below!

The term “glissando” (origination from the French glisser) refers to gliding from one pitch to another. Depending on the style of music you are playing, there are different terms used in glissando’s place like smear, bend, rip, sweep, and slide.  An example of a glissando in rock music can be heard in the Led Zeppelin classic “Whole Lotta Love”. Specifically, listen for it in the guitar solo. It's a common effect in all kinds of music and is used in both melody and harmony.

A portamento (from the French porter meaning "to carry"), like a glissando, is also when the pitch slides from one note to another. But it is more nuanced than that. The term was first used in the 17th century in vocal performances, but it is also very popular in orchestra settings. Portamento can also be referred to as “anticipation” because it refers to how a single note is expected to move to the note that follows it.

Most simply stated, a portamento is an ornamentation used at the end of a note to connect to it to the next, while a glissando is more of a deliberate slide between two notes.

Arpeggio is a type of broken chord. A broken chord is a chord whose notes are played individually rather than all together. What makes an arpeggio stand out from other broken chords is that the notes are played (or sung) in either ascending or descending order. Although the notes are not played at the same time, you can clearly hear the notes forming a chord. Arpeggios makes it possible for monophonic instruments to play harmony and direct chord progressions. This was very popular in earlier classical music, most notably with Alberti bass configuration.


All of these can be found in many different styles of music. Using them in your music, you can will definitely make some unique and moving sounds. So experiment! Who knows what greatness will come from it.

Because they are closely related, take some time to look for examples of glissando and portamento. These terms can be confusing for anyone learning music, but as you study, you will be able to appreciate their subtle differences and use them both in distinct ways. Mastery of these terms and techniques will improve your ability to write, so keep learning, practicing, and making music!

At the very least, you will be able to get more meaningful feedback from other artists when you understand musical terminology.

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