Play Glissando on Piano
I'm just kidding..., playing this glide with the right technique may hurt a little at the beginning, but after some practice you should not feel any pain.
The meaning of this term is gliding from one pitch to another. In other words it's a rapid ascending or descending of a scale.
If you don't know what a scale is I suggest you click here to learn about musical scales.
It's possible to perform a glissando on different instruments. Gliding can be easily produced over many scales in some in some instruments. When playing piano however, it could be performed only over two scales. We'll get to it later.
There are two types of glidings: the discrete glissando and the continuous one.
What do I mean when I say discrete? I mean that all different tone between two notes can be clearly heard when sliding through them.
The other side of the story is when you can only hear the first and last notes and everything in between sounds vaguer. It's called a continuous glide.
Let's take the harp for example. The harp has seven pedals that define the scale of the instrument upfront. You can easily play discrete gliding on various scales by using its pedals in order to change the scale. All the notes between the first and the last pitch will be clearly heard.
A continuous glide could be easily played on other instruments such as the violin, or trombone, as these kinds of instruments can produce an endless numbers of pitches. That's because a blowing instrument can bend the pitches to quarter tones as well while the piano can only produce half tones.
The piano can unfortunately produce glissandos over two scales only; The C major scale (Which is made out of the white keys), and the F# pentatonic scale (Which is made out of the black ones). We're going to cover both of them here below.
Gliding over the white keys
Gliding over the white keys is easier to produce, and is applied a lot in boogie woogie style. (Jerry Lee Lewis really loved to use glissando. Watch the link below to watch him on action if you don't know who he is).
The glide may be played downwards - (towards the left side of the keyboard), or upwards-(towards the right side of the keyboard). Each one of them is executed by different finger.
On the way down - I use my thumb nail; you will find it easier to do when bending your thumb inwards into your hand, and place it on the keyboard at an angle of 45 degrees. A smaller angle may cause a rip of your skin, and an angle bigger than 45 degrees could get your finger stuck between the keys.
On the way up - I use my third finger nail. Some pianists use their 2nd finger nail, and others use their 2nd and 3rd together (or even the 4th finger). You just have to try all the possibilities and the one that fits you best. You might find it helpful to use the thumb to support the other fingers that play the glissando.
The secret of gliding without hurting yourself is to apply the right pressure. Too much pressure will probably damage your fingers, and too little pressure will cause a neglecting of some tones, and the glissando will sound disconnected.
As I said before, it might hurt a little bit at first, so when you begin to practice - do it very slowly in order to help your fingers feel and find the right angle and the right pressure. Gradually increase the tempo until it sounds right.
The keys have sharper edges in some keyboards so if you have one of these...well, I don't have a solution to every problem! (But try to work more carefully and gently).
Oh, and one more thing...Don't use different objects for the glissando. I've seen one of my students using his mobile phone! That's the best way to ruin your piano and your phone! and you won't be able to call a technician to fix either of them!
Glissando only on black keys
Sometimes (rarely as a matter of fact), are we asked to play glissando on the black keys. The sound of this glissando is pentatonic , which reminds us of the sound of a glissando on the harp. However, gliding over the black keys is more likely to be painful.
There are two problems with the black keys:
First - they are narrower than the white ones, so it is more difficult to slide your finger on them.
Second - there are gaps between groups of black keys, so each time you pass a gap your finger looses height and your skin touches the next note instead of your nail. This is the reason that you should be more careful with the pressure you set.
In big bands you can sometimes hear a whole section of brass playing a chord together, and then making a "fall". this is a sort of glissando that feels like loosing energy.
We can imitate this effect on the piano: after playing a chord, you just slide down the keys with your right hand using the thumb nail.
Now, that you are an expert, watch Jerry Lee Lewis. playing Great Balls Of Fire.