The Function of Glides and Drops

Why add a glide or drop to a song? What do they accomplish?

Adding Harmony

If a singer is already singing one note, the glide can be from that note to the next. But usually, glides add harmony to a note. I think the harmonic identity of the glide is determined by where the glide starts. For example, if the note to sing was E but the chord was C major, you could start the glide on C. In the song "Abide with Me", if the first note is E (the major third), you might start the glide of the first note on C, then start the glide of the second note on B, to follow the changing harmony.

I am not saying the harmonic note is obvious. It took me more than a year to notice it. But subjectively at least, the harmonic note is there. (In theory, one could also create a harmonic effect by "pausing" on a note in the middle of a glide to add it to the harmony, though I don't know if anyone actually does this or if it would actually work.)

This means there is more "need" for glides for a solo singer than for singers singing in a group. Additionally, there is presumably a problem of singing together if two or more singers are doing glides. Nonetheless, some groups do glides, such as Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the effect is very nice.

Producing the Harmonic Drop

The drop also could be just to the next note, but usually it is harmonic. The effect here is even more subtle than for the glide, especially since there is a loss of volume on the drop.

The only way I have found to produce a harmonic drop (say as Karen Carpenter does them, with a loss of volume), is to just reduce the volume, let the pitch naturally drop, and just think about the note I want to drop to. If I try to intentionally drop to the correct note, it sounds sung. But if I just think about it, my voice somehow seems to drop to the correct note and the effect sounds right. Strange, but true.

Repeating Notes

The simplest "cliche" in music is the repetitive note. As a general rule, if a note repeats, especially three or more times, the song will sound better if the notes are given different glides. This then is another function of glides: adding interest to a song by breaking up a monotonous repetition.

For example, the song "Take me Out to the Ball Game" has a repetition of notes in "one, two, three (strikes you're out)". This is essentially the climax of the song. It is also a cliche, especially because the repeating note is the 8th. If you sing all three notes the same, it will sound like a cliche. To make the song lovely, the notes must be given different glides. On the CD Strawberry Jamz, the singer(Aubrey Lande) does this. (This is a wonderful though obscure CD, available here.) The first note starts with a glide from the sixth, the second note has a glide from the seventh, and the last note has no glide.

In contrast, consider the song "Knock Three Times" by Tony Orlando and Dawn. It was famous, so it should be good, though I never liked it. The key phrase "Knock three times" is a repetition of the same note. By my hearing, Orlando produces no variety -- either the notes have no glide, or the glide is very slight and the same for each note. The effect is poor, and the song sounds much better with variety on the glides.

To practice: Sing "My Country Tis of Thee." It starts with a repetition of two notes, and the second sentence begins with a repetition of four notes.

Cliches don't have to be repeating notes. I rank the ending notes of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" as a cliche -- five notes going up the scale ending on the eighth. Glides for these notes are discussed here

Adding Interest: Suspense Resolution

There is a third way that a glide can add interest. If you extend the glide in time, so that it is taking a long time to get to the intended note, a certain suspense develops -- are you really going to make it to the real note? Making it to the real note then provides a satisfactory resolution.

For example, if you are singing a song that has been made cliche by overuse, such as "Silent Night" or "Happy Birthday", prolonged glides will add interest.


  • There is a 60's song by Cyrcle called "Turned Down Day". The song is in a minor key, but at one note is a major third. They glide into the major third. This is a truly annoying glide. I don't know if they just start at the wrong point or if you should not glide into a change of key.

NEXT: Stylistic Differences in Glides and Drops