Roll Call: Identifying Rolls in Your Written Music (Part I: The March)

In an earlier blog post (Know Your Roll), I attempted to help drummers identify a five stroke roll across the five styles of music we play. After some reflection, I realized a change in approach was needed. Instead of teaching drummers to identify one particular roll in all styles I figured it would be much more efficient to target one particular musical style and show how all rolls within that style appear. This week, we will be starting with the March style.

Rolls in a 2/4 march appear the same way as they do in 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 marches as well as 2/4 hornpipes. In MSR reels (those written with swing), they look slightly different because of the 2/2 (cut time) time signature. I will include examples of written rolls for both marches and reels.

Before we begin, it is important to know a couple of things:

  • The length of a roll (whether it's a five, seven etc.) is determined by the FIRST note of the roll only. The only exception being if the roll is long enough to be played "over the beat" and contains a "hidden note"--more on this later.
  • Second, rolls can look different depending on where they are located within the bar.


Let's get started...

The Trizzlet

Trizzlets are always played as sixteenth note triplets in a march. Even when they are connected to other rhythms as in the first example below, their appearance does not change. In a reel, trizzlets are played as eighth note triplets. Trizzlets always appear this way, no exceptions.




The Cut Four (Four Stroke Roll)

As with the trizzlet, cut fours always look like they do in the example below. In the first example (march), the cut four is played with a dot/cut sixteenth/thirty-second rhythm. In the second example (a reel), the cut four is played over a dotted eighth/sixteenth rhythm. No matter which rhythm is attached to it ,the cut four will look the same every time.



The Five Stroke Roll

With the five stroke roll, things become a little more complicated due to the fact that it can appear over either dot/cut rhythms or cut/dot rhythms. The five stroke roll in the example below is written as a dotted sixteenth note/thirty-second rhythm in a march and as a dotted eighth/sixteenth rhythm in a reel. This version of the five stroke roll is known as the "slow five". It is called "slow" because the dotted note at the beginning of the roll gives you lots of time to fit your two buzzes in.



However, when the five stroke roll is played over the cut/dot rhythm, it is known as the "fast five" due to the very short time you're given to fit in both buzzes. If notated correctly the fast five should appear thinner than the slow five as in the examples below.



The Six Stroke Roll

The six stroke roll can be easily identified in a march as it always begins with an accented eighth note. In a reel, it begins with an accented quarter note.



The Seven Stroke Roll

The seven stroke roll is similar in appearance to the six stroke roll with the only difference being the lack of an accent on the first eighth note (march) or quarter note (reel).



The Ten Stroke Roll

The ten stroke roll is one of the most difficult to recognize in our music. The confusion over the appearance of the ten stroke is due in part to the different ways it is written. After studying many high level grade one scores (written by the best in the business) I realized that, depending on the composer, a 10 stroke roll was written one of three ways. Example #1 is the most common followed by examples #2 and #3. Example #3 is most interesting to me in that it is the only one of the three that clearly shows where the roll should end. If you are using rhythm syllables to count through your music, example #3 would be a "Hay Bay-Bee". The "hidden" roll note in the middle (on the "Bay" syllable") is not played. Instead, it acts as a rhythmic "place holder" so that the reader can more easily interpret the correct rhythm of the roll (where it should start and end).

Example #4 is simply example #3 bookended between two eighth notes beginning on the second half of beat one. Example #4 is considered to be "over the beat" because the first and last notes of the roll straddle beat two. Example #4 is used frequently in longer roll sequences to create a syncopated, or offbeat, feel.



The Eleven Stroke Roll

As with the six and seven the eleven stroke roll appears identical to the ten stroke, with the exception of the lack of an accent on the first note.



The Twelve Stroke Roll

Twelve stroke rolls can be recognized easily as they are the only rolls that start with an accented quarter note as in the example below. In a march, the twelve can be written on the first beat of a bar (example #1), the second beat of a bar (example #2) or on the last beat of a line (example #3).



In a reel, twelve stroke rolls begin with an accented half note:



The Thirteen Stroke Roll

Thirteen stroke rolls are very easy to identify and are used heavily in lower grade march scores--especially massed band scores. They appear identical to twelves but they do not begin with an accent.



In a reel, thirteens begin with a half note.



Now that you know how to recognize your rolls in a march the next step is to understand how they are played... and, you guessed it, that is next week's blog post! As always, if you have any questions or comments please don't hesitate to get in touch. Until next week, happy drumming!

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