Roll Call: Identifying Rolls in Your Written Music (Part VII: The 6/8 March)

This week we'll be discussing the all important but often forgotten style: The 6/8 March. In competitive piping and drumming the 6/8 march is rarely used. It sometimes makes an appearance in march medleys in the lower grades but is extremely rare in the upper grades. However, on parade and in massed bands, 6/8 marches are very common. Unfortunately, in most bands, parade tunes are always the last to be practiced. The stylistic considerations and the all important "swing" inherent in the 6/8 march style are never emphasized to the necessary degree.

The rolls commonly found in 6/8 marches are as follows:

  • Five Stroke Rolls (fast and slow)
  • Six Stroke Rolls
  • Seven Stroke Rolls
  • Thirteen Stroke Rolls
  • Twenty Five Stroke Rolls

Let's begin with fives...

 

Five Stroke Rolls

In 6/8 marches, five stroke rolls appear in both "fast" and "slow" versions as in the examples below:

 

 

The first three examples above show several versions of "slow" five stroke rolls. A "slow" five is easy to execute as its buzzes are played at a manageable speed. "Slow" fives begin either with an eighth note or a dotted eighth note. Example #4 illustrates a "fast" five". In a fast five, the two buzzes of the roll must be played very quickly. A "fast" five always begins on a sixteenth note.

 

Six and Seven Stroke Rolls

In the 6/8 march six stroke rolls always begin with an accented quarter note as in examples #1 and #2 below. Seven stroke rolls also begin with a quarter note but start with a buzz instead of an accent as in examples #3 and #4.

 

 

Thirteen Stroke Rolls

Thirteens can be easily identified in a 6/8 march as they always begin with a dotted quarter note. Example #1 shows a thirteen beginning on the first beat of the bar and example #2 shows a thirteen beginning on beat two.

 

 

Twenty Five Stroke Rolls

The only place you'll find a twenty five stroke roll (other than intro rolls) is in the last part of the North American massed band 6/8 drum score. You'll find it written one of two ways: using a dotted half note as in example #1 or using two dotted quarter notes tied together as in example #2.

 

 

The Mystery of the Massed Band 6/8

Those of us living in North America have had many chances to play the "Massed Band 6/8" drum score. The first two bars of the score look like this...

 

 

The first half of the line above (example #1 above) is copied from the score itself. According to the written music, drummers should be executing two seven stroke rolls in the first bar. For clarification I've provided a rhythmic breakdown of these seven stroke rolls in example #2 above. As you can see, these two seven stroke rolls must be played VERY quickly in order to fit the written rhythm. That is EXTREMELY difficult to do!! In order to fit this seven stroke roll into the music drummers have been starting the seven stroke roll earlier than they should. Here's the result:

 

 

Notice that the first bar of the 6/8 has none of the triplet swing necessary for the correct interpretation of the 6/8 march style. Instead, the result (when written) would look something like the example below:

 

 

When we play a 6/8 in massed bands we are essentially playing a bar of 2/4 march before going back to 6/8 in the bar that follows as in example #1 above. Example #2 is a rhythmic breakdown of this (incorrect) interpretation. The reason we interpret the first bar of the massed band 6/8 incorrectly is because it is too difficult--especially for beginners. This oversight from the composer(s) of the 6/8 score has caused confusion for both teachers and students for many years. All that is needed to rectify this situation is a simple fix: replace the two seven stroke rolls in the first bar with two fives as in the example below. This is so much easier to play and the triplet swing it creates will get your massed band 6/8 off on the right (or should I say left?) foot!

 

 

Next week we'll be discussing the breakdown and use of rhythm syllables to aid in interpreting your rolls in the 6/8 march. Thanks to everyone that has commented on the posts and sent me messages with critiques/ideas for future blog posts and encouraging words. Until next time, happy drumming!

4 comments

  • Sara-Jo

    Sara-Jo Philadelphia, PA USA

    I really love all your blogs... I notice this problem a lot in the field with street bands going into a 2.4 measure then 6.8 in the east coast of the US. What a simple fix with changing the sticking. Thumps up!

    I really love all your blogs... I notice this problem a lot in the field with street bands going into a 2.4 measure then 6.8 in the east coast of the US. What a simple fix with changing the sticking. Thumps up!

  • Pipe Band Drummer

    Pipe Band Drummer

    Thanks Sara-jo!

    Thanks Sara-jo!

  • Sara-Jo

    Sara-Jo Philadelphia

    I'm wondering if you have any information on the roll counts in 6.8 subdivided of triplet with the slow 5 and quick five?

    I'm wondering if you have any information on the roll counts in 6.8 subdivided of triplet with the slow 5 and quick five?

  • Pipe Band Drummer

    Pipe Band Drummer

    That's the subject of next week's blog post! :-)

    That's the subject of next week's blog post! :-)

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