Can you play a roll (and how important are they)?

Old Drummer

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Instead of sidetracking a similar thread (https://www.drumforum.org/threads/rock-drummers-who-actually-used-rolls.175174/page-5), let me open another one about rolls and us.

But first, since there seems to be some definitional disagreement, let me define what I mean a roll. I mean the kind of smooth, sustained, double-stroke buzz-sounding thing, usually played on the snare, that starts the "Star-Spangled Banner." It can also show up in orchestral music, sometimes for a measure or or more, and sometimes even with a crescendo required. I'm not talking about single-strokes or short bouncing riffs.

Ringo and I will start. (OK, let's leave Ringo out of it, even though there is reason to believe that he couldn't play a decent roll.) I can't play one. I can play 5- and 7-strokes all day, but I'm not the drummer you want to cue to open the "Star-Spangled Banner."

The strange thing is that when I was a kid, sure, I could play a nice, smooth, sustained roll. I was the kid in the school band who did play the roll to begin the "Star-Spangled Banner." OK, school band isn't the highest standard, but I was also all-state and won various regional solo competitions. I'm pretty sure that I really could roll.

But about the time I graduated from high school, I switched to matched grip and never got my left hand up to doing its part in rolls. I also steadily lost the ability to switch back to traditional grip and play a decent roll that way. (Switching grips was a bad decision, but that's another story.)

I then proceeded to gig for another 15 years without needing to roll. OK, I was just a weekend warrior, more semi-pro than pro. There were also a few occasions when my inability to roll was an embarrassment. Typically these were when I was playing wedding receptions and someone called for a drum roll before the bride threw the bouquet. My bouquet-toss rolls sucked. However, except for these infrequent embarrassments, playing a roll was never required. The music I was playing--rock, pop, country, a little swing--didn't call for rolls.

In fact, the other day I listened to a rock-style song in which the drummer (who I think is great) threw in a roll. I found myself thinking that if I were in charge of the recording, I'd ask him to take it out. IMO, the drummer's jazz playing, where rolls often fit, was bleeding into his rock playing, where rolls rarely fit. I just didn't think that the roll was appropriate for that song.

Though I myself am now practicing my double-stroke roll (using traditional grip) because, for goodness sake, being able to execute a smooth, sustained roll is kind of square one for a drummer.
 

Seb77

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Nomenclature:
double stroke roll = clearly discernible strokes, two per hand, bounce or finger control/"push-pull"
buzz roll = fast succession of contacts resulting in a buzz, no discernible strokes
With both, the change between left an right should be indiscernible.

You're correct that in most styles of popular music, buzz rolls are somewhat rare. In jazz earlier players who were still very snare-centered might be the ones to used buzz rolls the most. With the 1950s, it became an Art Blakey trademark, here often referred to as "press roll".He would often lead into the next part of a tune with a crescendo roll, most of the time ending in a cymbal crash - but not always.

You're not alone with the trad./matched problem. Quite a few players who started out with trad. (drum lessons?) and later switched to matched go for trad. again whenever a buzz roll comes up. I guess they just didn't practise it as much with matched.
Counterintuitive since you want both hands to sound exactly alike; I know classical players these days who play matched for this reason.
 

pwc1141

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To answer the question, yes, I can play a roll. Do it often as transition from one chorus/soloist to the next in my jazz setting. I have also found it a nice 2 beat change up during a snare drum only "train" shuffle in Country.
 

hsosdrum

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I also can play both a double-stroke roll (also called an 'open roll') and a buzz roll (also called a 'closed roll'). You'd be surprised how handy they can be if you're not playing cover songs (unless you're playing John Philip Sousa covers). And like the OP, I also have to switch from matched grip to trad grip, because when I started out in the mid '60s legit drum teachers always taught trad grip (and that's what all the real [read: jazz] drummers used). So that's the grip I used when I put in my thousands of hours of practice starting at age 12, and that's the grip that acquired all the muscle-memory for finesse playing.
 

Nacci

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I can play a solid roll, press, closed and open but I was in pipe and drum corps so had to dial it in for that.

I agree with your last paragraph entirely which was concise and well written.

You are a drummer; learn how to do a decent roll.
 
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multijd

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Although rolls are the drummer’s long tone and are useful for that reason alone, hence the Star Spangled Banner etc., I think that they’re most useful as a building block of other rhythmic constructions. They are part of the rudimental canon and thus having your rolls under control makes playing other more frequent drumming ideas more fluid and precise. I’ve been working on my rudimental chops during the lockdown and it has made my playing more effortless now that we are gigging again. One specific roll rudiment that can really provide some fill or solo variety is the six stroke roll. And remember that pre bebop drummers used the roll as a timekeeper (see Baby Dodds or Jo Jones’ “The Drums”).
 

bolweevil

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I'll admit that while I can play a pretty clean roll in isolation, and use them live on occasion, I don't have the confidence in pulling one off accurately enough on a studio recording and rarely do so in that context.
 

GiveMeYourSmallestSticks!

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I seem to have had the opposite experience of most here. I grew up playing mostly rock and grunge in a high school band. I was self taught, and so I never prioritized rolls and rudiments since my primary goal was the ability to play music that never seemed to call for these skills. Deep down I knew I couldn't play a roll, and secretly feared ever needing to, but it just never came up.

However, as I've aged and my tastes have expanded to many other types of music including lots of jazz and world music, I've had to work on my rudiments and rolls. I've always played matched grip, so didn't make any changes to that when learning to roll. In my experience, it was working on achieving really seamless doubles and triples that unlocked the ability to roll (and play the other rudiments).

As for applicability to rock, I would say that many of the best rock drummers display jazz chops. When teaching myself to play back in the day I could achieve most of what I wanted to in terms of playing along to backbeats, but it was those jazz inspired rock drummers who would sometimes mystify me by occasionally throwing in a rudiment based fill or technique. (Black Sabbath, Cream, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix come to mind). While I agree that it doesn't always feel appropriate, in some cases it raises the complexity/intensity level perfectly, and many of those drummers also brought a great sense of swing to the rock they were playing.

I would also agree with multijd in saying that these skills are building blocks to other skills and techniques, and have found that honing these skills has really tightened up my playing all around, even when I'm not playing an actual roll.
 

D. B. Cooper

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I'm mostly self-taught as well. I remember thinking that a press roll was one of the first things I wanted to learn.
I actually love using them in music and I've played in rock, post-rock, surf and psych bands. As well as some country here and there.

When in doubt, roll :)

Yes, I practiced them to death as a teenager. Thanks to my classically trained teacher. I sometimes, not often though do fills only doing rolls.
I agree with this. There have been many times during jams or whatever where me or somebody loses the time and a simple press roll acts as a reset button. Usually, this happens so fast that a lot of folks wouldn't know, but it's a great tool to have in the box.
 

kdgrissom

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In the classical end of the business, a smooth continuous buzz roll (either ppp<FF>ppp or FF>ppp) are required in all Orchestral auditions. Almost every orchestral piece with snare drum has them.
Step one is to have sticks that are matched in weight and pitch. Next is to actually devote some serious practice to rolls. Finally, I would recommend practicing without the snares engaged as they hide a lot of deficiencies in your technique.
 

Polska

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For me, double stroke rolls are typically 5, 6 and 7 stroke rolls, and I'll use those frequently. I'd need to work on a sustained double roll again to get it even like in the good old days.

One thing I always wanted and never took the time to whip up to speed was a good ole Ian Paice single stroke roll. Like the double, I have it in short bursts but then it falls apart.
 

TheElectricCompany

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Yes, I learned and used them daily during my seven years of school band and am not yet old enough to have forgotten how.
 

jmpd_utoronto

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In the classical end of the business, a smooth continuous buzz roll (either ppp<FF>ppp or FF>ppp) are required in all Orchestral auditions. Almost every orchestral piece with snare drum has them.
Step one is to have sticks that are matched in weight and pitch. Next is to actually devote some serious practice to rolls. Finally, I would recommend practicing without the snares engaged as they hide a lot of deficiencies in your technique.
what kdgrissom said!
 


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