How to Play Glissando on the Piano

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While you might not be familiar with the term glissando, you have no doubt heard it countless times before. It’s when the player slides their hands across the keys – it’s heard all the time in blues and rock. Believe it or not, it’s not as easy to pull off as it might look. You can actually injure yourself playing this incorrectly – which I have actually done as a child.

Glissando basically means a slide over all the keys. String players can perform this very smoothly by just moving their finger down the string; it’s not this easy on the piano. There is a simple secret however for playing this correctly.

The wrong way to play a glissando is to put your fingers down on the keys and simply slide them with the back of your hand. You can end up tearing off the skin on the back of fingers and causing tremendous pain!

The right way to perform a glissando is to place your hand at almost a right angle to the keys – so that mostly the nails hit the keys instead of skin. The video above provides an excellent demonstration of this. Believe it or not, that is it!

Now there are many different types of glissandos that can be performed in a few different ways. For example, you might want to play a descending glissando that would be played with the thumb on the right hand. The same principle applies; keep the angle straight up (at nearly a right angle) and slide the nail across the keys. If you stick to this technique you can even perform black key glissandos. Be careful though as this requires the angle to be precise in order to avoid injury.

If you are playing a glissando that ends on a certain note, try and use the second finger on the final note. This will give you a much better chance of actually hitting the correct note. There is a famous Mark’s brothers routine on playing glissandos where they actually employ this technique. Even if you don’t hit the last couple of notes before the last note, don’t worry, as long as you hit the correct note at the end you will create the same effect.

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin (949) 244-3729

2 thoughts on “How to Play Glissando on the Piano”

  1. I’m wondering if you have any specific advice on how to practice and play the octave glissando in the last movement of the “Waldstein”? Most pianists, myself included, dread this passage! Tavner

  2. Thank you! That is how I teach, but I never knew if I was. The tip about the second finger is great. I am teaching a piano trio with two of the students ending with a glissando who must end at precisely the same time. Again, thanks for all tips.

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