In my opinion, concert roll (press roll, buzz roll, closed roll, or any of the other 1,500 names used for the multiple bounce roll) is the hardest rudiment to perform correctly. The reason is that executing it well requires great skill and speed as well as a subtle ability to feel the movement itself.
So many times, when participating in an orchestra audition, I’ve been asked to execute a short and apparently rather simple exercise (or variation): four measures in 4/4 time, slow tempo, and four semibreves to roll from a pianissimo in the first measure to a fortissimo in the third measure again to a pianissimo in the last measure.
Well, this is the hardest exercise for me to execute on a drum, when compared to other ones, such as Sheherazade, Pique Dame, Lieutenant Kije or even to classic study pieces such as Delecluse, Vic Firth, Cirone, etc.
This is why in today’s post and video, I’ll give you a few tips to master your concert rolls by showing you the exercises I normally use with my students.
Before moving on to the actual exercises, I’d like to start by explaining a few important concepts to remember when executing a press roll:
- fluidity and smoothness: try to create a smooth sound, making the rhythmical movement of your hands as unnoticeable as possible. Avoid accents at the beginning of the roll, unless they’re specified.
- Think “upward” rather than “downward”: concentrate on lifting the drumsticks upward, trying to rapidly tying your movements together rather than concentrating on pushing them downward toward the head of the drum. It isn’t as necessary to put great pressure on your movements as it is to make them flow seamlessly.
- Subdivision: picturing an imaginary internal subdivision of the roll may be helpful and is actually a necessary technique in most cases, as you will discover later. Just be careful not to make it audible while you play.
- Less is better: after what I’ve said so far, you have probably understood that a good press roll is achievable by using the least possible number of movements. It’s the quality of the roll in each movement that matters, not the quantity of rebounds.
Well, that being said, let’s analyze a few exercises. I’m going to divide the work in two parts. The first part, the most important of the two, is useful to familiarize yourself with the basic movement of concert roll.
In the second series of exercises, I’ll help you reflect on two important variables that you’ll need to remember when executing a press roll: tempo and dynamics.
P.S. It’s absolutely necessary to repeat all exercises starting with your other hand as well.
EXERCISE 1: REBOUNDS, S – L – O – W – L – Y
The first element to analyze in order to play a good press roll is the number of rebounds that a drumstick can perform on the drum. First of all, let the drumstick rebound freely, one hand at a time, trying not to squeeze its fulcrum between thumb and index too tightly.
When I practice this exercise with my students, we like to compete for whom can achieve the highest number of rebounds in a single movement.
Caution: don’t even think about pressing or creating a “dense” sound yet! All you need to do for now is feeling the natural energy that you will later have to control in order to master a press roll.
EXERCISE 2: FEEL THE SENSITIVITY OF THE FULCRUM
In order to understand how much the quality of our press roll depends on the way we hold the drumstick fulcrum, try to alternate short, pressed notes to longer pressed ones.
For example, alternate three separate notes to one long note, modifying the pressure you exert on the drumstick fulcrum.
Remember that holding the fulcrum as tight as you will today, in this exercise specifically designed to practice short rolls, is not something that you will normally do. It’s only a way to help you understand how the quality and quantity of the rebounds in each movement depend on the pressure exerted on the fulcrum.
EXERCISE 3: PRESS ROLL ON THE LAST EIGHT NOTE
Now perform this exercise: in a 4/4 time measure, made of eight eight notes, practice press roll on the last eight note. Set the metronome on a very slow tempo, at 50 BPM.
Once again, concentrate on “tying” the rolled note to the following beat, but this time try achieving the densest roll possible.
EXERCISE 4: FIRST ROLL ALL EIGHT NOTES WITH YOUR RIGHT HAND ON DOWNBEAT, THEN ROLL ALL EIGHT NOTES WITH YOUR LEFT HAND ON UPBEAT
Holding a tempo of 50 BPM, concentrate on tying each rolled note to the staccato note.
EXERCISE 5: PRESS ROLL ALL EIGHT NOTES
Now try, alternating hands, to connect each movement to the other. At this point, you still shouldn’t worry about achieving a “complete” roll. What you have to concentrate on is the final part of each movement that needs to be tied to the following one.
With this last exercise, you’ve reached a sort of rudimental press roll. With the next exercises, we’ll specifically try to refine your technique.
EXERCISE 6: THINK OF THE PRESS ROLL IN RELATION TO TEMPO
In this exercise, we’ll use a mezzo-forte dynamics.
The objective is to show you how, depending on the speed of the beat, the division we choose for our press roll has to change accordingly. The slower the tempo, the more notes you need to roll. The faster the tempo, the less notes are necessary. Here are three examples:
- 120 BPM speed: subdivision in sixteenths
- 85 BPM speed: subdivision in sextuplets
- 65 BPM speed: subdivision in thirty-seconds
Now try playing a press roll with a speed of 65 BPM (still mezzo-forte) and a subdivision in sextuplets. Can you see how achieving a good roll is much harder?
EXERCISE 7: THINK OF THE PRESS ROLL IN RELATION TO DYNAMICS
Now I’ll show you how a change in dynamics also means a change in division. Normally, the more “piano” the dynamics, the less notes you need to roll. The more “forte” the dynamics, the more notes are necessary.
To better understand this concept, let’s go back to the example from the previous exercise. You saw how hard it is to achieve a good press roll with a subdivision in sextuplets, 65 BPM and “mezzo-forte” dynamics.
Now change the dynamics of the exercise to a “piano”, possibly played on the rim of the drum, where the drumhead is tighter and richer of more harmonious sounds than the center.
In this case, as you can hear, sextuplets work just fine. Here are three examples to better understand this concept.
Let’s maintain a constant beat at 50 BPM and let’s instead modify the dynamics:
- Piano-pianissimo dynamics: subdivision in sextuplets
- Mezzo-forte dynamics: subdivision in thirty-seconds
- Forte-fortissimo dynamics: subdivision in sextuplets of thirty-seconds
By now, you should have understood the basic technique for playing a good concert roll. All you have left to do is practicing.
The best way to do so is making your concert roll part of the most frequently requested exercises and orchestral passages at auditions, such as for example:
- Scheherazade – Third and Fourth Movement
- Pique Dame – Overture
- Delecluse – Etudes 1 – 8
I’m going to leave you with a video of myself performing the second and the third etude from th book by H. Knauer “Praktische Schule für Kleine Trommel”, not very well known around the world but requested in Italy at the audition for the Orchestra of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. You can find the sheet music here: Heinrich Knauer_Praktische Schule für Kleine Trommel.
Question: do you have any questions on the application of concert rolls, especially regarding orchestral passages or specific exercises? Leave a comment.