Breaking Down the Double Stroke Roll

(This Article was published in the most recent issue of Percussive Notes (Vol 39 No 4), and is reprinted on the Rudimental Webpage by permission of John Wooton.)

Each year the marching percussion area hosts an individuals competition at the Percussive Arts International Convention.   There are several categories in which to compete including  snare drum, multi-tenor drums, mallet keyboards, multiple percussion, and timpani.  There is high school competition and college competition in each of those categories.  In the snare drum  category the participants are required to break down a long double stroke roll and one other undisclosed rudiment, which is chosen by the  judges at the beginning of the competition.  The  flam paradiddle is usually chosen in the college competition because it is the most difficult rudiment to control at various tempi. However, the flam paradiddle will not be discussed in  this article, but perhaps in a later issue. The only limitation rule for the roll is that it has to be done within a minute.

Drum Corps International used to require that competitors in the snare drum and tenor drum categories play a roll break-down as well as a flam paradiddle break-down. The maximum time for the roll was two minutes and the minimum was one minute.  The roll also had to accelerate in the same amount of time it decelerated.  Judges would time the roll from the beginning to the peak and then from the end of the peak to when the roll ended.  If the two times were not within five seconds of each other, the individual\rquote s score was effected.  Three tenths of a point were deducted for every second beyond the allotted five seconds.  Penalties were also given for going over two minutes or under one minute.
Although these rules are not used in the PAS competition, the judges are very aware of the differences between the two halves of the roll break-down.  Several judges keep track with a stop watch to see who has a balanced roll (acceleration - deceleration) and who does not.  PAS does not have a minimum required time on the roll, but I suggest that you use as much of the given minute as possible.
The roll break-down is an advanced technique.  Beginners should not attempt or practice this technique until they have mastered the double stroke roll at various tempi.  The beginner should practice at steady tempi beginning with a medium to slow double stroke.  Once they understand the double stroke roll, they should practice their roll on a soft surface, such as a pillow or their leg.  The individual is required to use wrist and fingers because the surfaces do not throw the stick back.  This will build strength in the wrist and fingers and will eventually allow the individual to play a more even double stroke roll.  Do not allow beginners to play on kevlar heads that are tightened very high.  Drummers that practice on hard surfaces do not develop wrist and finger strength.  What happens is that the player relies on the bounce from the tension of the head and no longer uses wrist and fingers to produce an even roll.  As a result, the roll becomes uneven and gritty sounding.  I should also mention that kevlar heads that are torqued very high will cause tendinitis in the hand and elbow.
There are a few common errors that people make when breaking down a roll.  The first error comes at the transitional point when the player starts to bounce the diddle.  The difference in the no rebound stroke (staccato stroke) and the rebound stroke (legato stroke) creates a different sound and is very noticeable.  To prevent this, eliminate the transition.  Play the roll at the slow tempi the same way you would play them at the fast tempi. This also applies to any rudiment you are playing.  You can approach any instrument with this concept.  I require the same of my mallet keyboard students.  They have to play passages at slow tempi the same way they would play them at fast tempi.
Start the roll with both sticks up in raised position.  Use a full turn of the wrist and a slight raise of the forearm.  Sticks should be raised so that they are perpendicular with the drum head.  After each stroke, let the stick bounce back to this position.  This is also called the  legato  stroke, even though it is impossible to play legato on a marching snare drum. 

Do not force the stick into the head.  When starting the roll and ending the roll at slow tempi, the stick will stop in between each stroke at the top of the stroke.  Do not force the stick to stop at the bottom of the stroke or near the drum head. As the tempo increases, the diddles begin to flow naturally with no stopping between strokes.  You want to start out your roll with a high stick height because at the slower tempi you have more time between notes, so you need more space. As the tempo increases, lower your stick heights.  Do the same in reverse when slowing down the roll.
Another common error competitors make is trying to play the roll too fast.  Do not play the roll so fast that it changes the sound or evenness of the roll. At your peak, the roll should still be smooth and even.  If you have to start pumping your arms and locking your wrist to get the roll out, then you are going too fast and your sound will change.  I suggest finding the fastest tempo you can play a roll and then setting your peak at ten beats per minute slower than your maximum.  This will assure you of having a nice even roll during your peak.
Quality and consistency of sound is most important when breaking down a roll.In the past several years of judging the PAS snare drum individuals competition, I have never penalized anyone for going overtime on their roll.  They seem to be in a hurry to get it over with.  However, I do recall several competitors finishing their roll within 20 seconds.  Although there is no rule regarding a minimum time, it is better to go overtime then to use less than half of your allotted time.  This usually happens because the second half of the roll, the slow down, happens too quickly.  Control the roll and try to take up the entire minute. This will allow you to show how much control you have over the roll, slow or fast.
Make sure that you slow down the roll at the same rate you speed up.  It would be safe to say that 9 out of 10 drummers I hear play a roll break-down slow down the roll faster then they speed it up.  Time yourself and make sure that both sides are even.  For a one minute roll I would suggest the following guide line:

Accelerate 23 seconds
 Peak 8 seconds
 Decelerate 23 seconds
 Total 54 seconds (6 seconds left over)
Start your roll with a single right hand stroke (RLLRRLLRRLLRRLL) and end with a single left hand stroke to make your roll perfectly symmetrical. Starting with one stroke gives the illusion that the second note of the diddle is the downbeat.  Not only does this help you put more importance on the second note of the diddle, but the listener also hears the second note as the strong beat.
If you would like the timing of your roll to be as exact as possible, I suggest that you count each stroke.  This may seem a bit analytical, but it works.  To make sure that you are slowing down your roll at the same rate you speed it up, play the same amount of notes on either side.  Below is the system I use for a one minute roll. Count Out:

11 quarter notes (speeding up)
10 counts of eighth notes
10 counts of sixteenth notes
10 counts of thirty-second notes
10 counts of thirty-second notes (peak)
10 counts of thirty-second notes (slowing down)
10 counts of sixteenth notes
10 counts of eighth notes
11 counts of quarter notes
Eleven is used because the first note of the roll is a single stroke.  An odd number gets you back to the first note of the diddle being on the downbeat. There should not be a seam between transition from quarter notes to eighth notes, eighth notes to sixteenth notes and so on. The roll should gradually increase in tempo even though you will be counting in different groupings. 

The difficult part is doing this at the same rate in the second half of the roll as you did in the first half.  Use the transitions from the different groupings as a reference.  Remember how fast your diddles are during transitions from quarter notes to eighths and so on.  Try to play the roll at the same speed during those transitions, both speeding up and slowing down. You can change the counting to customize your own roll.
And finally, do not end your roll with a rim shot.  The last note should be the same volume and same intensity as the rest of the roll. Besides, his is extremely annoying.
Good luck and when in doubt, roll.

 John Wooton

John Wooton is Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi and
a member of the PAS Marching Committee.