The Glissando Technique for Brass, Strings, Woodwind, Piano, Percussion, and Voice

Glissandos appear commonly in string music. The glissando technique provides a way to quickly move between two pitches and brush over all of the pitches in between. The technique varies depending on the instrument due to differing mechanical capabilities. Strings, brass, woodwinds, voice, piano and even percussion instruments can all create a glissando between pitches.
The actual technique consists of sliding through the pitches between two notes, quickly moving up or down a scale. The glissando appears in the score as a wavy line between two notes with the text "gliss." above the line.


String glissando provides one of the most effective methods of glissando since you can easily slide your finger along the string. This enables the violinist to play all the chromatic notes between two pitches as well as the microtones. Microtones are the pitches between the standard chromatic pitches on a keyboard. On a string instrument, playing an ascending glissando comes easier than playing a descending glissando. A true glissando uses only one string to create the blurring of notes. However, a string player may also start sliding on one string and then switch to another string midway. Switching strings provide a way to play complex glissandos.


Brass instruments have a tougher time with a glissando. However, there are a few ways to create a glissando on a brass instrument. The most common technique involves wiggling the valves while forcing the pitch upwards through a tightening of the lips. Loosening the lips will provide the opposite effect. Trumpet players can also quickly finger a chromatic scale between two pitches. The chromatic scale provides a cleaner glissando, but some trumpet players view it as too technical and less musical. The trombone has the most effective glissando since the slide can be used to play all of the pitches.

Woodwinds and Piano

On a woodwind instrument, the glissando must be played by quickly running through a chromatic scale. The woodwind player doesn't have the same capabilities as a brass player to use lip tension when creating a glissando. He must finger every single note. The piano works in the same way. In order to play a glissando on the piano, the pianist must roll his finger across all of the white keys on the piano. Black keys are not used in a piano glissando.


Percussion instruments have various ways to create a glissando that is dependent upon the type of instrument employed. The barred instruments, such as xylophone, marimba, and vibraphone, all use the same technique of rolling the mallet across the bars to create a glissando. On a drum, to lower the pitch, the drummer must start by pushing in on the drum and releasing as he strikes the drumhead. To raise the pitch, the drummer strikes and then presses down on the drumhead.


The voice functions differently than all of the other instruments. Since a vocalist has complete control of her voice, she has the ability to play all of the microtones between two pitches. This makes it possible to create a true glissando with the voice. However, this technique rarely occurs in vocal music. Even though the technique can be completed by a trained vocalist, it doesn't have the same effect as when played on an instrument. Vocal music tends to be more stepwise so slurring between two notes doesn't have a lot of practical value.


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