Even if you’ve never had any experience playing the drums, you’ve probably heard a drum roll. It’s a staple of performance culture and a universal symbol for anticipation. It’s the quick beat that gets played when right before a major announcement or the appearance of a VIP.
Learning to play the drum roll is simple in theory. However, it requires a lot of practice to perfect.
It’s not as simple as pounding randomly on an instrument! There are many different versions that require different techniques to perform.
Read on to learn what a drum roll is, the different kinds, and how to play them. Then why not get your own snare drum and try it out for yourself?
Understand the Basics
A drum roll is a technique used by drummers to generate a sustained sound over a single note. It is a repeated stroke that maintains consistent length and volume, characterized by the constant nature of the sound.
While the tempo is usually relatively fast, it can also be slow. The slowed-down tempo creates an audible pause between each stroke. The different tempos and notes change the feeling of anticipation.
This musical technique comes in many different varieties. The most basic types include:
- The single stroke
- The double stroke
- The buzz
While somewhat more advanced and less common, triple stroke, five-stroke, and other rolls with different stroke counts exist.
Drum rolls usually use a snare drum, but you can also play a roll on any kind of drum.
Learn the Proper Grip
One of the essential parts of executing a successful drum roll is the grip.
There are several different types of grips used by drummers. Most prominent among these are:
- The German grip
- The French grip
- The Traditional grip
For a drum roll, the German grip is preferable.
The German Grip
For the German grip, the backs of the drummer’s hands should be flat, with the palms parallel to the floor. The hands and wrists should be in a relaxed, natural position, allowing an open space in the hand.
The Finger Positioning
The most critical part of the grip is the finger position. The thumb and the first knuckle of the index finger should be gripping the stick, forming a fulcrum for the stick to pivot.
The remaining fingers should very gently grasp the rest of the stick, but not so tightly that the stick cannot pivot on the fulcrum.
When striking the drum with the stick, you want the stick to do most of the work. Let the stick pivot down towards the drum and bounce back, catching it with the remaining fingers.
Practice this bouncing and catching motion as often as possible until you learn to control it effectively.
Start with the Single Stroke Roll
Now that you’ve mastered the proper grip, you’re ready to move on to playing a drum roll.
The first technique you need to learn is the single stroke roll. This style is the most basic drum rudiment, and you want to perfect it before moving on to the more complicated techniques.
Each type follows a basic stroke pattern. The single stroke pattern involves switching back and forth between each hand, leading with the right hand, striking once per hand before switching.
The strokes occur as follows: right, left, right, left, right, left. Easy, right?
Practice maintaining this rhythm slowly at first. Once you’ve gotten used to this pattern, you can try to speed it up.
When speeding up, make sure the increase in tempo is gradual and natural, rather than erratic. Once you’ve mastered this basic technique, you can move on to the double stroke roll.
Advance to the Double Stroke Roll
The double stroke roll is the next step up from the single stroke roll, and it is only slightly more complicated. It is also what we call an open roll.
The difference here is that while the single used one stroke per hand before switching, the double uses two strokes for one hand.
The double stroke roll pattern, then, is as follows: right, right, left, left, right, right, left, left.
It is vital to employ the bouncing technique to achieve a fluid double stroke with one hand. Just make sure to bounce exactly once before catching the stick and switching hands to produce two strokes. This precision requires the drummer to maintain control of the stick.
Like with the single stroke roll, you can practice speeding this one up once you’ve gotten used to the pattern.
Remember that the goal is to produce a continuous sound. However, for this method, you should be able to hear every stroke individually, even if the strokes are very fast.
Pro Tip: It can help to practice with a metronome to make sure you are maintaining the proper rhythm. New drummers commonly use this tool in the early stages of the learning process.
Challenge Yourself with the Buzz Roll
The most complicated of these techniques is the buzz roll, also known as the press or crush roll.
The main distinction between the buzz and the open roll is that while the stick only bounces once for the open (producing two strokes), the stick must bounce at least two or more times per hand for the buzz.
The pattern for the buzz roll is right, left, right, left. However, the stick must bounce as much as possible for each hand, so in reality, it is more like RRRR, LLLL, RRRR, LLLL.
You should speed up the tempo slowly and gradually to maintain control.
The key to producing a proper buzz roll is by applying the correct amount of pressure to the instrument. Too much pressure results in no buzz at all or a very short buzz. Not enough pressure and it sounds too much like a double stroke.
This guide is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drum roll techniques. After you master these, why not learn the five-stroke, the seven-stroke, or the one-handed roll?
Endless possibilities await you on your percussion journey. Go ahead and make some noise!