Piano & Keyboard All-in-One For Dummies
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A glissando (also known as a gliss in this lazy music industry) is a fast slide across several keys on the keyboard. There’s nothing quite like starting and ending a song with this effect. It will dazzle any audience.

To try a right-hand gliss, put your thumb on a high C note and drag your thumbnail down across the keys very quickly all the way to the bottom of the keyboard. Cool, huh?

This is how composers notate this effect, which is generally with a wavy line and the abbreviation gliss going from the starting note in the direction of the gliss.

For example, if you see a wavy line going up from C, play the note C and slide up the keyboard. Sometimes the specific ending note is shown at the other end of the wavy line; other times, it’s up to you to decide where to stop.

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Sometimes the composer specifies both the beginning and ending notes of the gliss — for that, just practice, practice, practice. Starting on a specific note is easy, but stopping on the right note is like trying to stop a car on a dime. Sometimes you can use your other hand to play the final note if it’s not busy playing something else.

Depending on the direction of the gliss and the hand you use, different fingers do the job. Here are the correct hand positions for each glissando:

  • Downward with right hand: Gliss with the nail of your thumb (RH 1).

  • Upward with right hand: Gliss with the nail of your middle finger (RH 3) and perhaps a little help from RH 4.

  • Downward with left hand: Gliss with the nail of your middle finger (LH 3) and perhaps a little help from LH 4.

  • Upward with left hand: Gliss with the nail of your thumb (LH 1).

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After raking your fingers across the keys several times, your fingers may start hurting. If so, you’re using the wrong part of your finger to gliss; when done properly, a glissando shouldn’t hurt. Make sure you’re using your fingernail, and above all, don’t play a gliss with your fingertips. Not only can this cause a blister, but the squeaking sound is worse than nails on a chalkboard.

Try playing a downward and an upward gliss in a Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired number. The effect of a glissando is altogether powerful, energetic, and just plain rocking.

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About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Michael Pilhofer, MM, holds a Master's in Music Education with a Jazz Emphasis from the Eastman School of Music, and a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Performance from the University of Miami.

Holly Day's work has appeared in Guitar One Magazine, Music Alive!, culturefront Magazine, and Brutarian Magazine.

Jerry Kovarsky is a regular columnist for Keyboard magazine and longtime product management guru with Casio, Korg, and other companies who have been instrumental in bringing keyboard technology into people's homes and onto stages and studios around the world.

Holly Day and Michael Pilhofer are co-authors of all editions of Music Theory For Dummies and Music Composition For Dummies. Blake Neely was a contributing author to the 2nd edition of Piano For Dummies. David Pearl is author of Piano Exercises For Dummies. Jerry Kovarksy is a contributing writer to Electronic Musician magazine. David Pearl is the author of The Art of Steely Dan and Color Your Chords. His other books include Burt Bacharach Piano Solos, jazz transcriptions of artists such as Grover Washington, Jr. and Dave Douglas, and arrangements of jazz tunes, classical pieces, and opera arias for piano. He has taught piano and performed jazz and classical music professionally for more than 30 years.

Michael Pilhofer, MM, holds a Master's in Music Education with a Jazz Emphasis from the Eastman School of Music, and a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Performance from the University of Miami.

Holly Day's work has appeared in Guitar One Magazine, Music Alive!, culturefront Magazine, and Brutarian Magazine.

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