NOW WHAT??: Tackling the "Three RRRs" (Reading, Rolls and Rudiments)

The Three RRRs are the elements every drummer needs to fully understand pipe band drumming: Reading, Rolls and Rudiments. To help drummers with these three elements I've created three books:


The Bare Bones introduces applicable music theory concepts and breaks down the complex rhythms of the five pipe band drumming styles (march, round reel, jig, 6/8 march and strathspey) into bite-sized chunks using rhythm syllables. The streamlined approach of The Bare Bones presents the fastest and most time-efficient method for learning to read pipe band drumming.


Roll Call teaches drummers to both identify and execute rolls in the five pipe band styles by providing visual examples and rhythmic breakdowns of every roll used in each style.


Zero to 60 is a complete "rudiment manual" that covers every variation of every rudiment in each of the five pipe band styles.


All together, these three books contain over 300 pages of music theory, technical exercises, musical examples, rhythmic breakdowns and other useful advice to improve your playing and understanding of pipe band drumming. It is an intimidating amount of material that can overwhelm even the most determined student. But, there is no need to panic. A large part of my thought process over the years when writing these books has been geared towards solving this issue and creating a logical path drummers can use to navigate this material. Let's start with first steps:


Step I: The Bare Bones

In order to unlock the material in Roll Call and Zero to 60 it is necessary to learn to read. Follow the progression below to start making your way through the Bare Bones:

  1. Open the book!
  2. Read the section titled "Welcome to The Bare Bones" that introduces the five styles of pipe band drumming
  3. Read the section titled "Basic Theory to Get You Started" that introduces elements of the musical staff
  4. Have a look at the rhythm tree which introduces note values
  5. Read the section "What is a Beam?" that explains why horizontal beams are used to group notes together
  6. Read the section "The Mystery of Note Groupings" to understand why beams are used to facilitate music reading
  7. Read the section "Group A: Additional Theory" for an introduction to the concept of "Dots and Cuts" and a list of the rhythm and rest syllables that are necessary for navigating through the rest of the book
  8. Print off a copy of the rhythm and rest syllable pages and keep them next to you as you play through the exercises
  9. Go to The Bare Bones section of to find audio examples for the first two lines of every page of The Bare Bones. Use these audio examples to help you understand how each rhythm syllable should be said.
  10. Begin progressing through Group A, saying and playing the rhythm and rest syllables simultaneously
  11. When you have completed Group A, begin Group B
  12. When you have completed Group B, move to Group C
  13. When you have completed Group C, try Group D
  14. When you're done Group D, tackle Group E
  15. When you are finished Group E you can relax for a bit. Congratulations! You can now read any underlying rhythm in a pipe band drum score!


There are two ways to progress through The Bare Bones: "horizontally" and "vertically". Choosing the "horizontal" option means playing only the first two lines of each exercise page. Taking this approach means you'll get through the book at high speed (when I teach a Bare Bones clinic I usually get through the entirety of Group A in two hours). The "horizontal" option also allows you to take advantage of the audio recordings of the rhythm syllables on the website.

Choosing the "vertical" option means going from the top to the bottom of every page playing all ten lines of exercises. This option is more time consuming and also much more challenging, due to the fact that the sticking patterns become more complex as you progress down each page. If you are truly serious about becoming a better drummer, "vertical" navigation through The Bare Bones provides a solid challenge. Like all challenges, the benefits you receive are directly proportional to the effort it takes when tackling the challenge. Going "vertical" will increase your reading and technical abilities significantly over "horizontal" navigation.


So, now that you can read the rhythms of pipe band drumming, it's time to move on to the next step: rolls.


Step II: Roll Call

Rolls are problematic for pipe band drummers. These problems stem from the fact that rolls are traditionally introduced in the march style only. This causes confusion when rolls are shown in any of the other four pipe band styles. For example, a quarter note roll in a 2/4 march is played as a thirteen stroke roll, a quarter note roll played in a reel is played as a seven and a quarter note roll played in a strathspey is a nine!! The reasons that these rolls appear the same yet are executed differently involve changes in tempo and time signature that most drummers could care less about. Drummers need to be able to quickly identify their rolls in a given style and immediately know how to execute them properly.

Unlike The Bare Bones, Roll Call is not an exercise book and it is not designed to be played straight through. It is actually a reference book that contains a complete catalogue of every variation of roll that appears in each pipe band style. Each style is broken down into two distinct sections: identification and execution. The identification section of the book demonstrate all the different ways a certain roll could appear within a given style. The execution section of the book breaks down each roll into the rhythm of its individual buzz strokes. If you have already gone through The Bare Bones you will understand how to read these rhythmic breakdowns correctly.


To use Roll Call as intended you will need to know the answer to "The Three Questions" found on page 7.

  1. In which style is the drum score written? (march, reel, jig, 6/8 march or strathspey)
  2. What is the value of the first note of the roll? (quarter note, eighth note, dotted sixteenth note etc.)
  3. On which hand (right or left) does the roll begin and end? (and is there an accent on the first note of the roll?)


Let's say you're looking at a roll in the reel style that starts on a quarter note, begins on the left hand and ends on the right. What type of roll is it? Follow these steps to find the answer:

  1. If you know the roll is in a reel turn to the chapter called "Identifying Rolls in the Round Reel Style"
  2. Find the roll that starts with a quarter note. Check to see if it has an accent or not (>)
  3. Find the roll that starts on the left and ends on the right.
  4. You've discovered the roll you are looking for is a seven stroke roll!
  5. Now, turn to the chapter called "Executing Rolls in the Round Reel Style"
  6. Find the seven stroke roll and, using your knowledge of rhythm syllables from The Bare Bones, play the rhythms of the individual buzzes 


Now that you can navigate Roll Call correctly, you are ready to move on to the next step...


Step III: Zero to 60

Zero to 60 contains all 60 pipe band rudiments in all five pipe band drumming styles. Now that you have learned how to read pipe band drumming rhythms using The Bare Bones, and how to identify and properly execute your rolls using Roll Call, you are ready to tackle the biggest challenge: mastering the rudiments!

Zero to 60 has been designed so you can progress through the book sequentially from beginning to end. The book starts with a description of the Seven Foundation Strokes of Pipe Band Drumming (rebound, ghost, control, pull up, buzz, double bounce and dead stroke) followed by the rudiments themselves. Every rudiment has a prerequisite--either mastery of a previous rudiment or a foundation stroke. The rudiments are also divided into three sections: Level I for parade band drummers, Level II for grade 5 or 4 competition drummers and Level III for grade 3, 2, 1 and open level competition drummers. To navigate Zero to 60, follow these steps:


  1. Read the introduction and the instructions on how to navigate the PDF document (this will make it much easier to find your way around the book)
  2. Learn the Seven Foundation Strokes first as you will need them to play the 60 rudiments. Check out the video on YouTube if you think it might help
  3. Read the "Using a Metronome" section if you are interested in tracking your progress or figuring out which level you wish to attain
  4. Begin working on the first rudiment: single strokes
  5. Try single strokes in every style before moving on to the next rudiment
  6. If you would like to hear a brief example of single strokes being played, visit the "Our Rudiments" section of
  7. Once you are comfortable with single strokes, move on to the second rudiment: double strokes
  8. Make sure to read the accompanying "Pro Tip", "Practice Challenge", "Theory Break", "Food For Thought" and "Focus on Technique" sections as you progress through the book to further complement your rudiment studies
  9. Repeat this process until you have mastered all 60 rudiments! (don't panic as this may take a significant amount of time)


In reality the time commitment required to go through all the material in "The Three RRRs" is... well... a lot! It is important to keep in mind that all great players are continually working on their fundamentals, reading, composing, and many other skills. It is also important to know that some world-class drummers cannot read or write music and some have difficulty when discussing music theory. We are all humans with strengths and weaknesses. The material presented in "The Three RRRs" is intended to turn your weaknesses into strengths and benefit not only you, but all the drummers around you. As you become more familiar with reading, rolls and rudiments you will become more comfortable spreading your knowledge to others and this has huge benefits to the pipe band drumming community as a whole.

If you are interested in purchasing either The Three RRRs as a whole or separately, please visit the Store.


As always, comments, criticism and suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Drop me a note on the Facebook page, send an email or comment on the post below.

Until next time,

Happy Drumming!