One of the unique charms of the piano that distinguish it from most other
instruments is its ability to produce a glissando – a name that is as glittery as the sound it represents.
Other instruments can produce glissandos, but few can do so with the speed and range that a piano can.
One drawback to the piano’s glissando, however, is that it can only be performed using two specific scales: C
major and F# pentatonic. The unique layout of the black and white keys inhibits any other glissandos.
Glissando is an Italian word that literally means “gliding,” and this word very accurately articulates what the
performer is meant to do. The piano player will literally glide his fingers over the keys in a rapid motion to
dramatically slur the sound of notes, quickly ascending or descending across the keys.
The tonal effect of a glissando is not unlike the common sound used in cartoons for a baseball rising, rising,
rising in the air and then eventually, falling, falling, falling down to earth, usually on a character’s head.
Glissandos are indicated in a piece of music normally by writing two different notes and connecting them with a
wavy line. Imagine a Middle C and another C three octaves higher connected with a line that looks like waves from
an ocean: this is what the indication for a glissando looks like, and at that point in the music the performer
would be expected to dramatically rush his fingers across the keys to reach that higher C.
However, before you start practicing your C scale as fast as you can, understand that there is a specific,
unique technique on piano that will help any level player successfully perform a glissando.
Glissandos can be a wonderfully easy piano technique to master, but
if done incorrectly could actually cause several injuries on a performer’s fingers. Whether playing an
ascending or descending note progression, you can play with whichever hand you feel most comfortable.
Many performers prefer only their right hand, others only their left, and still others think it best to play
ascending glissandos with their right and descending with the left. Let’s imagine you need to play an ascending
series of notes, and you choose to do it with your right hand.
Place the back of your third finger on the first note of the glissando at roughly a 45 degree angle. Strike the
first note firmly and then keep your finger down as you progressively sweep your arm across the notes. Your middle
finger will press each succeeding note like a row of dominoes.
You will never lift your finger from the keys, but just glide it quickly across pressing them quickly in
succession. This same glissando technique on piano can be replicated with the left hand playing a descending
Do not feel like you need to press too hard. Of course, you can’t press so lightly that the keys don’t sound,
but pressing too firmly will possibly cause the back of your finger to get bruised or lacerated as it is dragged
across the keys.
Even if done correctly, it is possible that your hand may hurt a little bit. But after some practice
getting used to the feeling and the right technique, the pain will go away and only the joy felt at hearing the
sonorous gliding tones of the piano will fill your spirit.
The material in this site is intended to be of general informational use.
Although every attempt has been made to make information as accurate as possible, we are not responsible for
any errors that may appear.