A drum roll (or roll for short) is a technique the percussionist employs to produce, on a percussion instrument, a sustained sound, "over the value of the written note." Rolls are used by composers to sustain the sound and create other effects, the most common of which is using a roll to build anticipation.
Snare drum roll
A common snare drum roll is the closed (or "buzz" or "concert") roll. The concert roll is performed by creating 3 equal sounding bounces on each hand alternating right to left. The 3 bounces are made even more equivalent in sound by using the acoustic properties of the snare drum. Strokes closer to the rim will have a lower volume than strokes on or near the sweet spot of the drum. Therefore by placing the first of the 3 bounces closer to the rim and moving the second bounce towards the sweet spot and finally the third bounce in the sweet spot will produce three equal sounding bounces.
The open roll (or "double-stroke roll") is played with double strokes alternating between the left and right hands. Using a forearm stroke for the first and the fingers for the second stroke, the 2 strokes can be made to sound identical. This produces a near-continuous sound when the technique is mastered.
Other than the open, double-stroke roll there are many other rolls and rudiments that sound like rolls when they are played fast enough (like the freehand technique or single paradiddle). In the table below, lower-case letters represent grace notes (drags, flams etc.) and hyphens represent rests.
|Triple-stroke roll (or French Roll)||RRRLLLRRRLLL|
|Single paradiddle||RLRR LRLL|
|Double paradiddle||RLRLRR LRLRLL|
|Five-stroke roll||RRLLR LLRRL|
|Seven-stroke roll||RRLLRRL- LLRRLLR|
Also, the six-stroke roll is often used in snare solo and marching percussion situations and is a favorite for jazz and rock drummers. It has four variations; each note is equal in length and consists of two double strokes (RRLL) and two singles (R L). The strokes are most commonly taught as (RLLRRL).
Rolls on timpani are almost exclusively single-stroked. Due to the instruments' resonance, a fairly open roll is usually used, although the exact rate at which a roll is played depends greatly on the acoustic conditions, the size of the drum, the pitch to which is it tuned and the sticks being used. Higher pitches on timpani require a faster roll to maintain a sustained sound; some timpanists choose to use a buzz roll on higher notes at lower volumes; although there is no definite rule, most timpanists who employ this technique do so on a high "G", and above. In the end, it often comes down to the discretion of the timpanist.
These are similar to the timpani rolls in that they are done nearly the same way and are both single-stroked. Yarn mallets usually can be rolled much more easily on a marimba than plastic ones can be on a xylophone, because the extra reverberation of a marimba will mask the silent gaps between strokes. For this reason, the rolls can be much slower and still effective. But for xylophone and orchestra bells a much swifter roll is required, especially for rubber or plastic mallets. A brass mallet used with orchestra bells will add extra vibration to aid in the smoothing of the sound.
To get these faster rolls, percussionists (keyboard, snare and timpani) all often use the muscles of their fingers instead of those of the wrists. The fingers have a shorter rotation length and can move faster with less effort than the wrist. Finger muscles are usually not as well developed, so percussionists, especially of the middle or high school age, will be seen twirling or rolling their sticks and mallets through their fingers rapidly. This differs in some way from the twirling majorettes perform.
Fulcrum roll/one handed roll/gravity roll/Freehand roll
The fulcrum roll is a roll in which the rim of the drum momentarily replaces the original finger-created fulcrum. The initial stroke creates contact with the drum head in a relatively normal manner. Immediately subsequent, at the bottom or end of the down stroke motion, the rim is contacted approximately 1 inch in front of the thumb and forefinger. Contact with the rim rocks the front portion of the stick upwards from the point of contact with the rim. At this moment, the wrist is located just below the rim and the bead is a couple inches above the head. From the bottom of the down-stroke, the hand is then raised for the upstroke. While the hand raises, the bead of the stick is returning back toward the head after its' bounce off the rim. As the raising hand and falling bead reach the same height, the head is struck for the second time. This creates two beats contacting the drum head out of a single stroke motion of the arm. The precise moment of contact with the rim momentarily creates a new fulcrum at the drum sticks physical point of contact with the rim. This is one of the easier and more commonly used forms of a "one handed roll". When executed with precision, this doubling of contact means 16th notes can be played while the arm only strokes 8th notes, or 32nd notes can be played while stroking only 16th notes.
The freehand technique is a unique method used by percussion to produce a fast drum roll with a single hand. It is based around using the rim of a snare drum as the fulcrum point of the drumstick. By doing this, a drummer can produce two strikes of the drum with each full motion (one on the down stroke, and one on the upstroke). The technique is also known amongst many drummers as the gravity blast.
In most recent music, all three types of rolls are notated as tremolos, with slashes through the note stem:
- One slash indicates dividing the note in two.
For example: A sixteenth note with a single slash on it indicates two thirty second notes.
- Two slashes indicates dividing the note in two, and two again.
For example: A sixteenth note with a double slash on it indicates two thirty second notes with one slash on each one, and that indicates four sixty fourth notes.
- Three slashes indicates dividing the note in two, in two again, and in two a third time.
For example: A sixteenth note with a triple slash on it indicates two thirty second notes with two slashes on each one, and that indicates four sixty fourth notes with a diddle on each note, and that indicates eight 128th notes.
- Feldstein, Sandy (1980). Snare Drum Rudiment Dictionary: Handy Guide, p. 2-10. Alfred Music. ISBN 9781457414787.