Best way to master rolls

Best way to master rolls

Hey all,

Wondering about the best exercises I can do to improve my rolls.

Is it as simple as going up and down the scale in a well timed rhythm and rolling each note, trying to increase in speed while maintaining the timing, or is it more involved than that?

Re: Best way to master rolls

I often play scales and roll each note as a bit of an exercise … I also sometimes will play a tune I know well and try and incorporate as many rolls as I can (I would never play it this way outside my own house, it’s just for practice), and thirdly, I will sometimes isolate the few notes in a tune that I want to work on with regard to rolls (or any other ornamentation) and play just that bit slowly and increasing speed. That way I’m improving "in context" of the notes surrounding.

Re: Best way to master rolls

Thanks Skitter

Re: Best way to master rolls

I think your idea is on the right track. Like with any new instrument technique, practicing it repeatedly with consistent rhythm at gradually increasing speed is a good process. First make sure your roll technique is correct, as it can be easy to take bad technique up to speed. If you’re new to rolls in general, there are some good tutorials on YouTube (I see you’re a whistle player in your profile). Make sure to not push the speed beyond your ability as you go, since that might lead to ingraining bad technique. Good technique at slower speed will lead to better technique at faster speed. Since you’re working on the whistle, you also might consider working on different types of rolls/taps as you go, but that might be too much if you’re newer to the whistle.

Re: Best way to master rolls

I find the best way to really master rolls is to be able to do them without thinking. To achieve this, rather than practice up and down the scale, I practice a specific roll within the context of a tune. Sometimes I’ll use the roll andj sometimes not. After a while, it just pops out spontaneously within the flow of the tune, which is really what you are after.

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Re: Best way to master rolls

To master rolls you need to be very sure of what you want them to sound like. It is very easy to follow instructions about how to execute the things and be completely off the track. You do NOT want to be practising them wrong. :-D

Assuming that doesn’t describe you, I would recommend practising by playing them in context. Long rolls for example, played on an on-beat dotted crotchet | ¼ note. They can be played straight evenly or swung, depending on the type of tune, and your playing style. Practise both, but in the context of a bar or two of a tune.

Then there are what Bro. Steve calls "off-beat rolls" that you get in reels. You definitely need to practise those with their leading notes e.g. BE E~ or dg g~ to get them rolling along smoothly. Instead of going up and down the scale, you could play the first few 2 bars of First House in Connacht in a loop as an exercise, or the 3rd and 4th bars of the B part of Roaring Mary ad nauseam.

Re: Best way to master rolls

Great advice, thanks all!

Re: Best way to master rolls

One trick I learned early when trying to master rolls was to have a few tunes, e.g. Morrison’s Jig & Kid on the Mountain, that have a variety of rolls and use those tunes to warm up and practice the rolls. Also, going up and down the scales rolling each note is a good practice, particularly for learning the less used, more difficult rolls.

Re: Best way to master rolls

With beginning students the main problem I’ve encountered is them treating a roll like a "thing", like a blob of sound. It’s like their brain just fires once to the muscles and the blob of sound happens.

To combat this I have them practice rolls as three separate notes. I want each of the three "melody notes" to have its full value; I want their brain to fire three separate signals to their fingers.

In this case I want each G to sound its full value, and the cut and pat to be played so quickly as to have virtually no musical time-value:

G (cut) G (pat) G

I have them practice up and down the scale, using a metronome if they require it, to get each note a full proper note.

In piping you might have a G roll that goes like the one above, or you might have a G roll that goes

(cut) G (pat) G (pat) G

or, potentially, any other combination of pats and cuts. It’s why I want the student to thing of a roll as being three things and not one thing.

Re: Best way to master rolls

"With beginning students the main problem I’ve encountered is them treating a roll like a "thing", like a blob of sound. It’s like their brain just fires once to the muscles and the blob of sound happens."
Yes. As a fiddler, I like to do rolls so they don’t sound like an extra thing, but just fit into the tune.

I like it when the rolls are "organic," so the listener doesn’t even notice them because they’re an integral part of the tune. I think Martin Hayes’ rolls are like that.

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Re: Best way to master rolls

Keep in mind that there are different styles for executing the "same" type of roll. I have noticed that if I am executing the same roll as a fiddle player, it can sound wrong if I don’t conform to the style the fiddler is doing. One fellow I play with does their rolls with each note having fairly even duration.
Example: G… (cut) G… (pat) G…
I often like to stretch out the first note (borrowing time from the second and third notes).
Example: G….. (cut) G.. (pat) G..
But the two don’t always sound good together. I learned to play both styles, so I can conform to the other performer if necessary.

Re: Best way to master rolls

Second endorsement for brother steve…

Normal, long rolls in jigs are easiest to understand and develop at first, as they usually sit on the regular, jig triplet. Rolls in reels can have variations and additional rhythmic complications that are important, but harder to figure out.

I also find that certain tunes provide me with concentrated practice on rolls on particular notes, for example, Drunken Landlady & House of Hamil (E rolls). That is useful because for me, the E-roll isn’t easy for me. A-roll also is not my best one, and it requires additional practice.

Re: Best way to master rolls

I like to keep in mind that in reels there are two distinct types of rolls that are often written the same.

They’re in different contexts and I play them differently.

As pointed out above a long roll in a jig can occupy a full beat, a full triplet, and it makes sense that these rolls are timed to fit the way that particular player times jigs.

But these rolls have three eightnotes and a beat in a reel has four eighthnotes, meaning that there are multiple ways long rolls are placed.

So the three eighthnotes in a G roll can occupy the first three of the four eighthnotes

GGGA
GGGF#
GGGD
etc

or what have you and I time these rolls more or less like I would time them in a jig.

But a roll can occupy the last three of the four eighthnotes

BGGG
DGGG
etc

and I time these completely differently, in fact my fingers treat this not as a long roll but as a short roll that happens to be preceeded by the same note; the accent is falling on the second G, and that G’s value is cut.

Re: Best way to master rolls

I agree with what you are saying about rolls in reels, Richard.

But, it took me a long time to figure it out. In reels, the rolls on the last three eight notes are rhythmically "interesting". I didn’t get it until I had more experience (quite a bit more experience). Lots of listening built up my understanding.

The other thing that helped me was to consider rolls as "articulations", i.e. rhythmic elements, rather than just rolls. That means that timing and dynamics (or accent) are part of it.

Sometimes I treat them as you describe "short roll that happens to be preceded by the same note", in which case I might tongue the short roll. Other times I use a normal straightforward roll on those last three. Depends on the rhythmic needs.

Re: Best way to master rolls

I just love how helpful everyone is on this board. It helps sustain my faith in humanity
:-)
Thanks All!

One of the tunes I’ve started with for getting rolls in context (as Ailin recommends) is The Humours Of Drinagh, because it can starr with a roll, and then the second part can have two rolls back to back followed by s solitary roll later on. This is helping me to feel the way it should fit rhythmically.

Sometimes I hit it spot on and it sounds genuine, and I get a thrill out of that. At other times something is a bit off, probably because that muscle memory isn’t fully developed yet, and my tapping fingers stall or freeze up (or flail a bit). But the fact that I can sometimes get it right just means (I believe) that I just need to repeat it so it gets ingrained into my synapses. I’ll keep at it and see if I can get it to be more automatic. It does seem to be getting better with time.

Re: Best way to master rolls

Shannon Heaton has a Tune of the Month podcast which she has done for years. She plays flute if you have not heard her music. She often plays rolls (probably every tune) and it helps me to play along with her at the beginning of the clip when she introduces the tune played up to speed. [that’s usually after I’ve learnt the tune. ;]
The actual lesson comes afterwards. One in particular is with the jig "The Sporting Pitchfork". In the middle of the tutorial she discusses rolls & shows how she fingers them. She also discusses a few tips about playing and variation. If you are interested, Mark, here is the link. ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2DQnPUS4Z8

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Re: Best way to master rolls

Mastering rolls? You put your head on the ground first, hands on either side of your head, then push off with your feet.. :)

Re: Best way to master rolls

Master Rolls was a right strict codger who used to broker no nonsense from the lads. He we quick to anger and you didn’t want to end up on the wrong side of his stick.

Re: Best way to master rolls

He partnered with Master Royce and produced one heck of a motorcar I just love mine!

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