We derived and tested a new, simple, and accurate method to estimate the compliance of the entire arterial tree and parts thereof. The method requires the measurements of pressure and flow and is based on fitting the pulse pressure (systolic minus diastolic pressure) predicted by the two-element windkessel model to the measured pulse pressure. We show that the two-element windkessel model accurately describes the modulus of the input impedance at low harmonics (0-4th) of the heart rate so that the gross features of the arterial pressure wave, including pulse pressure, are accounted for. The method was tested using a distributed nonlinear model of the human systemic arterial tree. Pressure and flow were calculated in the ascending aorta, thoracic aorta, common carotid, and iliac artery. In a linear version of the systemic model the estimated compliance was within 1% of the compliance at the first three locations. In the iliac artery an error of 7% was found. In a nonlinear version, we compared the estimates of compliance with the average compliance over the cardiac cycle and the compliance at the mean working pressure. At the first three locations we found the estimated and "actual" compliance to be within 12% of each other. In the iliac artery the error was larger. We also investigated an increase and decrease in heart rate, a decrease in wall elasticity and exercise conditions. In all cases the estimated total arterial compliance was within 10% of mean compliance. Thus, the errors result mainly from the nonlinearity of the arterial system. Segmental compliance can be obtained by subtraction of compliance determined at two locations.