Closed Roll Studies
Exercises for Developing Control of Multiple Rebounds
by Jeff W. Johnson
The closed roll, aka buzz roll, is a mystery to many drummers, and for good reason. This type of roll attempts to imitate the long tone that other instruments, like trumpet or violin, create by sustaining a single pitch. Long tones on drums are mimicked through the use of multiple rebounds.
The desired sound of a closed roll should be smooth and legato. Some liken it to the constant swish of water running out of a faucet. When I studied with the legendary jazz drummer Joe Morello, I asked about his philosophy regarding the closed roll. He recounted the advice that was given to him by his teacher George Lawrence Stone. Stone understood that most drummers initially make the mistake of trying to achieve a closed roll by pushing the sticks into the head. This produces a series of short, scratchy buzzes. When each buzz is short, you have to move your hands very quickly to create a smooth roll.
Stone taught the concept of the roll being made in the air. He understood that it’s the space (or air) between the rebounds that allows the roll to breathe while the hands remain free of unnecessary tension. Stone taught that the closed roll may be played in a very open manner, using as few as three rebounds per hand. More rebounds could be added later to produce a denser sound.
First try getting just three rebounds per hand. Begin practicing without worrying about a specific tempo or rhythm. Very little hand pressure is required.
Now practice the rebounds within a rhythmic sequence. Play each slashed note with three rebounds. Practice the exercises slowly at first. Also try playing the exercises with the snare wires turned off. This will eliminate the white noise from the wires, allowing each rebound to be heard clearly.
To make the roll a little denser, practice getting four rebounds per hand without worrying about a specific tempo or rhythm at first.
Now practice the previous exercises again, but play each slashed note with four rebounds.
Finally, practice multiple rebounds on each hand. Strive for as many bounces as possible, but make sure not to press the stick into the drumhead. Instead, allow it to bounce off the head.
Again, practice the 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 exercises using multiple rebounds for the slashed notes.
Jeff W. Johnson, who has played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, is the owner of Johnson Drum Instruction in Richmond, Virginia, and the author of The Level System. For more info, visit johnsondrum.com.