In modern singing terminology (sorry, Webster), a melisma is sung when a single syllable is stretched over several notes. It's used quite a bit in blues music.

Me*lis"ma (?), n.; pl. Melismata (#). [NL., fr. Gr. a song.] Mus. (a)

A piece of melody; a song or tune, -- as opposed to recitative or musical declamation.

(b)

A grace or embellishment.

 

© Webster 1913.

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