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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
The most common snare drum roll is the closed (or "buzz") roll. The open roll (or "double-stroke roll") is played with double strokes alternating between the left and right hands; the closed roll or multiple-bounce roll is produced by applying slightly more pressure to the fulcrum upon impact which allows for the stick to bounce many times on the drum head. One stick hits the head slightly before the other bouncing stick is pulled up from the head. 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, perhaps a misleading name, is often used in snare solo and marching percussion situations. It has four variations; each is a quarter note in length and consists of two double strokes (RRLL) and two singles (R L). Doubles:
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 snare is used as a fulcrum for the drummers stick. To perform a consistent fulcrum roll the stick must come in contact with the head and rim at exactly the same time and then tip down towards the drummer. The drummer must then raise the stick to produce an up stroke. The wrist of the drummer also must stay straight, as if shaking someone's hand. This is one of the easier and more commonly used forms of a "one handed roll". The second common, albeit more difficult form consists of the drummer bouncing the stick alternately off of the middle and ring fingers.
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.
- Cirone, Anthony J. (1991). Simple Steps to Snare Drum, p.30. Alfred. ISBN 9780757979910.
- Feldstein, Sandy (1980). Snare Drum Rudiment Dictionary: Handy Guide, p. 2-10. Alfred Music. ISBN 9781457414787.