What is a "Legato Line," and How Do I Sing With It?

How to Sing a Legato Line

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Image courtesy of Elena Gatti via flickr cc license

One skill is more important than any other when singing, learning how to sing a long legato line. Singing well depends on it; whether singing pop, musical theater, opera, folk, jazz, or any other style. Not only does it improve a beginner’s skill at singing long phrases, but overall breath support is also improved. Most voice teachers spend a significant amount of time on the legato line, and whether done consciously or not, singers are affected by it with every song they sing.

What Does Legato Mean?

Legato means to perform notes smoothly without any breaks or pauses. The term can be applied to all music and musical instruments. Editors and composers may indicate a whole song or particular parts of works be sung ‘legato.’ Singing in a flowing fashion is easier than singing staccato or in a detached manner, because the air flow is unstopped throughout the phrase.

What Does it Mean to “Sing a Legato Line”

Singing a line legato means to sing a phrase smoothly and is one of the number one goals of singers everywhere. Jolts, hiccups, breaks, or any other separation between notes are not only unattractive, but make it harder to sing. When there is a pause or break between notes, the diaphragm is more likely to rise leaving the singer struggling to get to the end of the phrase without taking a breath. Once air begins to exhale, especially if the chest has collapsed downward, it is incredibly hard to stop the air from gushing out of the body all at once.

How Do I Know if I’m Singing Legato or Not?

You will find it is easier to elongate the breath in order to sing longer phrases when singing legato. The body also has an easier time combining the head and chest voice naturally and without effort throughout the range of the voice. You may be able to hear a difference between a more legato and less legato line when you record yourself, but most advanced singers rely on how they physically feel when singing.

I suggest putting one hand on the chest and another on the stomach. If either collapses significantly between notes, you should practice connecting the effected notes. Often large intervals or downward moving scales are spots where singers struggle.

Is it Ever Appropriate to Not Sing Legato?

Yes, when music indicates a singer should sing marcatto or staccato meaning semi-detached or detached, singers need to adjust accordingly. However, it is harder to do. Some singers believe sliding into notes is bad, because they associate it with “scooping.” If you listen carefully to advanced singers, they slide between notes but in a different way than a scoop. First off, the slide used to create a legato line is faster than a long drawn out scoop. And secondly, scoops typically dip down below the first note or up above the top one, in the same way a spoon scoops into sugar or a basketball swishes into a net. In contrast, connecting notes in legato fashion draws a more direct line between two notes.

Exercise to Learn to Sing a Legato Line

Start learning how to sing legato by singing short five-note scales, for instance the 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 scale or in the key of C-major c-d-e-f-g-f-e-d-c. Focus on connecting each note, especially the space between the scale numbers 4 and 5.

You may want to slide through the notes first before singing it as a normal scale, by singing each semi-tone between the five notes. After you have mastered a shorter scale, try singing longer ones, such as an eight-note scale: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.