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How to Play a Drum Roll: 5 Tips for Mastering Drum Rolls

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

Drum rolls are fundamental to drumming and a basic percussion rudiment.



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What Is a Drum Roll

A drum roll is a percussion technique in which a drummer sustains a quick succession of beats. Drummers can play drum rolls on most percussion instruments, from standard drum sets and cymbals to timpanis and bass drums.

Basic Drum Roll Notation

In sheet music, a drum roll is indicated by a tremolo—a note with one to three slashes through its stem. A tremolo with one slash prompts the drummer to play a diddle—two strokes over the duration of the note—with either the right or the left hand. A tremolo with two slashes prompts the drummer to play two diddles over the duration of the note—two with one hand and two with the other. A tremolo with three slashes prompts the drummer to play four diddles, alternating hands.

7 Types of Drum Rolls and How to Play Them

There are many types of drum rolls. Below are some of the most common types of drum rolls.

  1. Single-stroke roll: Also known as a closed roll, snare drum roll, or concert roll. Repeatedly alternate the right hand (R) and left hand (L) in time with the beat. RLRL. Repeat.
  2. Double-stroke roll: Also known as an open roll. Play two single strokes on each hand. RRLL. Repeat
  3. Triple-stroke roll: Also known as a French roll. Play three single strokes on each hand. RRRLLL. Repeat.
  4. Buzz roll: Also known as a press roll or multiple bounce roll. Buzz rolls require a different grip and fulcrum point, which is where you place your hands and fingers on your drum sticks. Generally, a buzz roll is executed with a tighter grip between the index finger and thumb. Buzz rolls are single-strokes played in rapid succession. RRRRRRRRLLLLLLLL. Repeat.
  5. Paradiddle: Play two single strokes followed by a double stroke. RLRR or LRLL. Repeat.
  6. Double paradiddle: Play four single strokes followed by a double stroke. RLRLRR or LRLRLL. Repeat.
  7. Flam: Two single strokes on alternating hands that are played almost simultaneously. The first stroke should be quieter (a grace note), and the second should be louder and on the beat.
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5 Tips for Mastering Drum Rolls

A rudiment like a drum roll is meant to be combined with other drum rudiments to create more complex patterns. Practicing rudiments on a practice pad will help you learn to play drum rolls more efficiently and intelligently. Beginners use rudiments to improve their speed and control, and pros use them to stay sharp.

  1. Practice. Practice is the only way to master any instrument. If your time is limited, aim for at least one hour of practice every morning or evening.
  2. Learn how to hold drumsticks. They may feel foreign in your hands at first, but if you learn how to hold them properly, you'll eventually get used to them.
  3. Train both your dominant and non-dominant hand. Your drum playing may be uneven at first. Practice each hand individually until you reach a place where your drumbeats sound uniform.
  4. Increase your speed as you gain confidence. Practice drum rolls at a variety of speeds, starting slow and eventually increasing the tempo as you master the technique.
  5. Build up to more complex rudiments and rhythms. Once you've mastered a basic drum roll, diversify your exercises with more complicated rhythms.

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