Drum roll

From Academic Kids

This article is about the drum roll, a percussion technique. "Drum Roll" is also the title of the autobiography of James Blades.


A drum roll is a method a percussionist employs to produce a sustained sound on a drum. Rolls are used on other percussion instruments such as the marimba and xylophone to sustain the sound, where it can be likened to tremolo on string instruments.

The snare drum roll

The most common snare drum roll is the closed roll. The open roll ( or "double stroke roll")is played with double strokes alternating between the left and right hands; the closed 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 continual 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 paradiddle family). In the table below, lower-case letters represent grace notes (drags, flams etc) and hyphens represent rests.

RudimentSticking pattern
Single-stroke roll RLRLRLRLRL
Double-stroke roll RRLLRRLL
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 situation. It has four variations; each is a quarter note in length and consists of two double strokes(RRLL) and two singles (R L). Doubles:

Six-stroke rolls
R L RRLL L R LLRR
R LLRR L L RRLL R
RRLL R L LLRR L R
RR L R LL LL R L RR

The timpani roll

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. For example, wooden sticks will generally require a faster roll than felt ones.

The marimba roll

These are similar to the timpani rolls in that they are done nearly the same way and are both singly-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 bass mallet with the orchestra bells will add extra vibration to aid in the smoothing of the sound.

To get these faster rolls, percussionists (keyboard and snare and timpani all) often resort to using 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. And more often than not, dropping them. This differs in some way from the twirling majorettes perform.

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