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What is the proper technique to perform an upward and downward glissando on piano? In particular, how should you position your hand, and is it important which finger(s) you use?

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I see tips suggesting using the back of the hand, using the nail. The thumbnail for downward runs, a fingernail for upward runs (right hand). – slim Mar 15 '13 at 13:54
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Personally I choose to use my thumb nail (going down at least, sometimes a finger nail going up depending on what's easiest, but always the nail.) This hurts to start with, but before long you'll get used to it.

The "down then up" Glissando in Rhapsody in Blue for instance I find easier with the thumb going down, and a finger on the way up - when it's just upwards, often still the thumb nail on the way up.

Alternatives that don't tend to hurt as much for the first times often involve using the fleshy part of your finger, which can work, but for me always sounds like more of a compromise - the tone seems more varied and soft. Of course, this is all subjective, but usually when glissandos are involved in music it's a brighter, louder tone that's sought after.

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If you have access to a piano with looser keys (i.e. an older one that hasn't been well maintained), this can be a good starting place to get the feel for it. – Hannele Mar 18 '13 at 19:14
It does indeed hurt a bit, which is why I wanted to make sure I was doing it right. Thanks! – Mike Welsh Mar 18 '13 at 21:06
@MikeWelsh Build it up slowly - don't overdo it, and you should be fine :) – berry120 Mar 19 '13 at 11:33

You may use the nail, but fingertips also work for a (downward) louder glissando.

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It's not that simple. For downward glissandos, use your thumbnail (RH 1). For upward glissandos, use RH 3 (use RH 4 too when doing it for the first time)

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