I have a question about the glissando:

Does a glissando (on piano) have a meaning of playing just white notes regardless of which key we are in? For example, in F# we have a lot of sharps. If I want an upward-sliding glissando effect from C# through G# (where the G# is ~an octave and a half above the C#), is that properly communicated using a glissando? Would a glissando entail playing all black keys from C# to G#, or would it just entail playing the white keys on the piano?

I have a second question that would be related to this question. So after finding the answer to this question, I'll ask my second question in another post (assuming this response doesn't also answer my second question).

Thanks in advance.

  • Technically, gliss on black keys. Practically use white - it doesn't hurt so much.
    – Tim
    Aug 5, 2017 at 18:26
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    @AF, I've edited for clarity. Please check to make sure I haven't changed the content at all of your question. In the first large paragraph, did you want the last sentence to say: "Would a glissando entail playing all keys (black and white) from C# to G#" or is it correct the way I've edited it?
    – jdjazz
    Aug 5, 2017 at 18:53
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    Sometimes, you can play the first and/or last note with your other hand, if they are on black keys. That can help to keep the tonality from "wandering" too much when there aren't many white notes in the key signature.
    – user19146
    Aug 5, 2017 at 20:44
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    @jdjazz If the OP's question really was "Would a glissando entail playing all keys (black and white) " the answer is "no, that's not physically possibile for a normal human." Of course with computer playback, you can play any notes you like.
    – user19146
    Aug 5, 2017 at 20:45
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    @alephzero yes, agreed. Just checking to make sure I haven't changed the original content, as this would be an inappropriate edit.
    – jdjazz
    Aug 5, 2017 at 22:56

2 Answers 2


A piano gliss is usually on white notes, with the back of the middle finger. Where it needs a specific 'landing point', and it's a black note, it's easy to turn the first finger onto it.

Sometimes 'black note gliss' is requested in the notation. Sometimes a player decides a black note gliss would be appropriate. It tends to be very recognizably a pentatonic scale. This can be a good sound.

But the default gliss is white notes.

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    Good answer. You could also note that other variations are possible: Ravel writes glissandos in thirds, and it is possible to do a similar "chromatic" glissando, playing the white notes with thumb and black notes with fingers (or vice versa), not that I've ever seen this written. Aug 6, 2017 at 8:22
  • Thanks, so there is no default rule for gliss. for example in classic pieces? Or if Intend to prefer whites to blacks or if I want some notes in the middle to be included in the gliss. how would be the notation rules? How to clarify exactly what I mean on my sheet? How to write I want all the chromatic notes to be played for that specific gliss.? Another question: If for example the music is in F#M, which has lots of sharps, doesn't playing gliss with only white keys seems a lot out of tune or something like that?
    – Amir F
    Aug 6, 2017 at 19:08
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    You don't seem to have read my answer! Yes, there is a default, a white note gliss. If you just write 'gliss' this is what you will get. If you want a black note gliss, say so. Write 'black note gliss'. If you want something else - well you can ASK for 'D major gliss' or 'Chromatic gliss' but you'll have to tell the player how to do it! A sequencer could manage it of course, so in these days of computer-generated music maybe it isn't all that silly a question.
    – Laurence
    Aug 6, 2017 at 20:55
  • @AF what do you mean by "classic"? Also, I would note that if the gliss is short (just a third or a fourth or so), it's commonly played as a chromatic sequence of all the notes between the beginning and the end ones.
    – yo'
    Aug 7, 2017 at 11:21
  • Is it? On piano 'gliss' is the name of a particular gesture. We can also play fast chromatic scales. But a gliss is where we turn the finger over and slide up (or down).
    – Laurence
    Aug 7, 2017 at 13:53

On the piano, a glissando is possible on either the white or black keys. In the latter case, it would be an ascending or descending pentatonic scale. I use the back of my fingers. It never hurt me.

On the harp, it is different. The strings can be set by means of the pedals so that a glissando can be done on any scale, diminished-seventh chord, the two whole-tone scales, some dominant sevenths, and some added-sixths chords. Care must be taken, however, not to use the harp glissando to excess. Some harp parts comprise almost entirely zig-zag lines. The late Sir Charles Villiers Stanford used to complain that some composers seemd to imagine that harpists played with brooms instead of fingers.

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