Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How we used to learn the open roll

I just got a very nice note from Jim Buckley about the following comment of mine from the Jim is a major figure in corps- he marched snare with Ghost in one of the greatest drum lines in history- the early 60's Boston Crusaders, was an instructor for the 27th Lancers in the later 60's and 70's, and a DCI judge, among other things. I can't speak for him, but he was enthusiastic ("Ghost would be proud of your literary treatment of experiencing the long roll, the intro to percussion trauma.")- so I guess the way I describe it- as a pretty miserable but effective process- is the way it's really supposed to go, more or less. So here we are:

The way I learned the open roll- from 70's Santa Clara Vanguard guys and the corps legend Bill "Ghost" Linen- was pretty brute-force and unscientific, but definitely worked. We used to do doubles single-handed, slow to fast, in a triplet rhythm (leaving out the middle note), taking about 10-15 minutes per hand.

...and repeat.

You start out doing full strokes from the wrist; your back fingers are relaxed but always on the stick. As you get a little faster, you follow through on the second note of the double with a little arm lift from the elbow- your forearm raises with the rebound after the second note and drops on the first note of the next double. As you increase the speed, you play lower and shift from primarily two wrist moves to a single forearm move with a little wrist assist; if you started out with very open back fingers, you also close that up somewhat (again, at no point in the process do your back fingers leave the stick).

At some point, you will encounter the "break" where it's too fast to play the notes individually, but you can't quite make a good sounding double happen yet. You'll start feeling out of control, and that will generate tension at first. By the end (at well over 200bpm) you'll definitely feel like you're just hacking away at the drum with your forearm. Even though it feels like you're just punishing yourself, it's important to go through this part of the process- you need to put your hands in that zone so they can learn to adapt. The precise means of navigating the break was never explained- that's wilderness you need to pass through on your own.

Once you can make it over the break without losing it, and your doubles at the fast end sound clean and solid, you can practice shifting some of the forearm move back to the wrist, if you want.


  1. Anonymous10:23 PM

    Hi Todd, I've been trying to practice this with a metronome, but obviously that requires some brief stops and starts to increase the tempo. Is this ok, or is it important to have an uninterrupted flow going?



  2. Hey Max- I don't know if there's anything to be gained by using a metronome for this— I would just try to hold the tempo or a minute or two, then do a little accelerando when you want to pick it up a bit. But however you do the exercise, provided you actually do it, should get you there.