This is an exercise I’ve been using to gain better control of my press rolls. An earlier post using a 32nd note subdivision and a couple of pages from Ted Reed’s Syncopation is an extension of this original exercise.
For this exercise you need to first familiarize yourself with the rhythm scale. This is a progression of subdivisions from quarter notes to 32nd notes. Take a look:
To start, play through each subdivision at a slow tempo, Q=50 or so, using alternating strokes (RLRL). I work on this exercise in two ways; the first is measured, each subdivision gets four bars, the second is meditative, more on that in a moment. If you are still working on “odd” subdivisions; 3’s, 5’s, 7’s, you can start with quarter notes, 8ths, 16ths and 32nds. I use this version with a lot of my students, we refer to it as the mini-rhythm scale. Once you are comfortable with each subdivision begin buzzing each note as you play through the scale. The goal is to connect each stick’s roll to the next, whether you’re playing quarter notes or 32nd notes.
Each subdivision presents it’s own challenge. The most obvious being quarter notes. For these it’s best to play them for an extended period of time your only real goal being to make a good sound. I call this meditative practice. While you play, check in with the different physical aspects of playing the roll. Where are your fingers on the stick and in relation to each other? How much pressure are you putting on the stick with your fingers? With your actual stroke? Through this process I discovered that a slight lift at the end of each buzz helps me to connect the notes.
You can repeat this process with each subdivision. Ultimately, the goal of this exercise is one of meditation anyway. The more time spent playing through the different subdivisions, the more your hands (brain/hands, who’s to say…) will begin to internalize the feeling of rolling at different speeds. This comes in handy when you’re on the bandstand and you want to use a roll dynamically; speed up as you crescendo, or slow down as you decrescendo. The key is to play it by feel though, you’re not going to be counting strokes and subdivisions in the middle of a tune.
Make sure to check out my post on the movement between the ride cymbal and playing a press roll on your snare too.