How To Play A Drum Roll

I mean, who doesn’t want to be able to learn how to play a drum roll?  Everyone requests them, and they make every drum beat, fill, and solo sound way cooler!  The problem is, they are perhaps one of the most difficult techniques to learn and master.  This is a very basic outline for how to get into playing a drum roll.

How To Play A Drum Roll

The first thing to note is that there are many different kinds of rolls.  There are single stroke rolls, double stroke rolls, triple stroke rolls, five stroke rolls…(you get the picture).  Basically, there are two main types of rolls that I will mention here: the double stroke roll (open roll) and the buzz roll (closed roll).

Double Stroke

In a double stroke roll (open roll), the performer will strike the drum with one hand and the stick will bounce exactly one time resulting in two strikes of the drum with one wrist stroke.  Then, without missing a beat, the other hand will repeat this pattern striking the drum exactly twice using one wrist stroke.  The performer continues on until the roll is completed resulting in a continuous sound.  In a double stroke roll, you should be able to hear every strike the sticks make on the drum even though it will sound very fast!

More Pressure Equals Buzz Roll

In a buzz roll (closed roll), the technique is a bit different.  The performer will apply more pressure into the stick against the drum head so the stick bounces an undefined amount of times before replicating this movement with the other hand.  The result is something that sounds like a “buzz” where the listener can not detect how many times the stick is striking the head.  This buzz sound is caused by the crushing motion of the stick into the head resulting in the sticks vibrating on the drum head.
Which one is easier to play?  Probably the one you practice more!  Neither of these rolls are easy to perform and they require a lot of time and patience to be able to pull off.  Up until the point that I decide my students are ready to start learning rolls, they have only ever hit the drum once per wrist stroke.

Where I Like To Start

how to play a drum roll
Give Me A Drum Roll

I will most often start teaching the double stroke roll.  The first step to learning rolls is to learn bouncing.  Bouncing occurs when the stick bounces off the drum once, and comes right back down and quickly strikes the drum a second time.  More pressure needs to be applied to the stick to be able to achieve this, but not too much, so that the stick only bounces twice.

 Two Fingers Needed

This control over the stick is often difficult at first for the student to understand.  To make it easier, I suggest holding the stick with only the two main fingers (the thumb and pointer finger).  Without the other fingers to apply pressure into the stick, the two main figures act as a pivot, allowing the stick to bounce up and down naturally.  Now, the student sees that without applying any pressure at all, the stick will naturally bounce up and down continuously until the stick runs out of height and velocity.  Now, I tell them to wait until the stick bounces only twice and catch it.

Bouncing Sticks

After they get used to catching the stick after it naturally bounces twice, I let them start to apply more pressure to the stick, causing it to bounce faster and still try to catch the stick after only two bounces.  Next, I tell them to add the other fingers back onto the stick and still try to achieve the double bounce.

Similar Strategy For A Buzz Roll

My method for teaching buzz rolls is pretty similar to teaching double stroke rolls.  I allow the student to remove all but the thumb and pointer finger from the sticks but this time, I tell them to allow the stick to naturally bounce as many times as possible until it stops on its own.  In a buzz roll, you want every strike possible!  Even this could take a long time and a lot of practicing!
Then, I allow them to use their correct grip and try to crush the stick down into the drum, trying to get as long of a buzzing sound as possible out of only one motion of the wrist.  Again, this can take a very long time to get right!
In either roll, once both hands can separately perform the necessary amount of bounces, then, we start putting the hands together to create one continuous roll.  Both hands should sound and look the same to achieve a smooth, clean roll.

Fail Proof Way To Learn How To Play A Drum Roll

Ultimately, the best way to be able to perform a drum roll is by practicing.  No one is able to play a roll in one lesson.  A lot of time and patience is necessary, but when someone asks if they can get a drum roll and you are able to play one to perfection, it all will be worth it!

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