Performing a fast one handed drum roll is not very difficult with the right technique and practice. There are two techniques commonly referred to as "one handed roll," and should not be confused. The first uses the drum’s rim to lift the stick up so that the tip hits the drum-head both on the hand’s up swing and down swing. This technique has limited use, and I won’t elaborate on it because this type of one-handed drum roll is not what this page is about. The second type of roll uses the fingers’ ability to move quickly enough to enable you to play a roll with one hand. And this is what we will be learning here.
Before you read ahead please be sure you are familiar with the content of these two lessons:
The secret to the one handed drum roll is to use your middle, ring, and pinkie fingers to propel the drum stick in rapid successive motions. You can normally move those fingers much faster than your wrist or arm, and use less effort to do so.
To execute the drum roll, you are going to hit the drum with one hand only, using the matched grip. After the stick bounces of the drum for the first time, use the three fingers to push the stick into additional fast bounces. The fingers are going to be assisted by slight movements of the wrist, but don’t use your wrist’s power or you won’t be able to bounce the stick as fast.
The picture above shows a side view of how the stick is held. Notice how it’s possible now to push the stick down into the practice pad with my fingers only. The pinkie is a little behind the stick and other fingers here so it’s not visible, but don’t worry, it’s still there. Sometimes it’s more comfortable not to use that finger.
You can start practicing these drum rolls by setting your metronome to 80 beats per minute and 4 beats per measure. Execute an 8 bounce roll (eight sixteenth notes) on the first half of the measure (starting on the 1st and ending right before the 3rd metronome click), and rest for the second half of the measure. Repeat many times of course, and practice with one hand at a time. And as always, if it feels too difficult, slow down, and if it feels too easy, speed up. Also practice with longer (more strokes) rolls.
It is very important to master this type of motion early in your career as a drum student because it has many uses that don’t fall under what’s considered a drum roll, but the motion is the same. For example, you can use it to play fast on the hi-hat or cymbals. Once you learn this, you’ll find that you’re using it more and more in your everyday drumming.
The Real Secret Behind Fast One Handed Drum Rolls
The trick to getting good at this is in the timing of your motion. When performing this motion, two things are happening, the fingers are moving, and the stick is moving. And these two motions need to be coordinated. You need to start pushing on the stick with your fingers (closing your hand) when the tip has lifted sufficiently off the drum the drum. If at any point in the roll, you start pushing the stick when the tip is still very low, there won’t be enough distance to push the stick through, and the roll will die. So you have to wait for the tip to lift up, each time before pushing with your fingers. When the tip is up, you’ll feel the back of the stick pressing against your fingers.
In terms of practice, this means that it’s preferable if you practice slowly to get the timing right, and only then go faster. You’ll find that going fast is much easier if the timing is perfected.