In piano music, a glissando is a slide up or down the keyboard, hitting every white key (usually) in sequence. A glissando usually either starts or ends on a definite pitch, almost always occupies a definite time interval, and is marked in sheet music by a diagonal jagged line indicating the direction in which it is played. Playing a glissando can be hard on the fingers, particularly if the surface of the keys is high-friction; I once knew a pianist who kept a chalkboard eraser at the end of the keyboard for use on glissandi.


One of the more amusing stories of my piano career involved the use of the glissando.

The daughter of my home church's pastor attended Virginia Tech, but was not involved in the Wesley Foundation. She and her then-boyfriend, now husband, have attended Blacksburg United Methodist Church since they started at VT, 3 years ahead of me; her husband is now the youth director there, and she's a VT grad student.

I never played piano for my church's youth choir while I was a member; I enjoyed singing more (and still do), and there were plenty of other people willing to accompany. When I got to Wesley my freshman year, though, the Singers co-chairs caught me playing around on the piano one evening, and the rest was history. I wound up accompanying one song that year, and more each successive year.

The time was April 1998, Wesley Weekend. Each Wesley Weekend, the Singers do a Coffeehouse show on Saturday night at Wesley, then perform most of the Spring Tour program on Sunday morning at BUMC. On Wesley Sunday, Jody and Todd were sitting near the back of the church, watching our choir perform.

As I started playing the opening song, Jody looked toward the front and thought she could see me behind the piano, but wasn't sure from that distance. The verse of that song built from a spare accompaniment at the start into a quick resolve-clash-resolve-hammer the tonic chord sequence at verse end, and rode a glissando into the chorus. As Jody told me after the service, her thought pattern went something like this:

verse starts building

"You know, I think that's Josh playing."

resolve-clash-resolve-HAMMER, then

g
  l
    i
      s
        s
          a
            n
              d
                o

"Yep, that's Josh, all right."

The glissando is also used in classical guitar playing, and probably in other similar instruments as well.

On the guitar, a glissando is more commonly known as the "slide", and that is what electric guitarists call that particular technique.

Basically, to execute a slide, just pluck a particular string while fretting it, and then pull the fretting finger up the fingerboard towards the body of the guitar till you reach the fret you wish to end on. To slide downwards, drag the finger in the opposite direction. The end result is a smooth succession of ascending or descending notes.

Notice that unlike the piano a glissando on the guitar involves all notes in the scale, not just the "white keys".

Although this seems quite easy, it takes some skill to make it sound good. Depending on the guitar used, the player must ensure that the pressure which is applied to the string by the fretting finger is appropriate, among other things. On an acoustic, it is generally okay to press a bit harder, while on a classical or flamenco guitar, the finger should just lightly glide over the frets to make it sound less bumpy. Of course, the type of music being played is an important deciding factor as well.

Glis*san"do (?), n. & a. [As if It. = Fr. glissant sliding.] Mus.

A gliding effect; gliding.

 

© Webster 1913.

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