Rock ‘N’ Jazz Clinic

The Flexible Five

Exploring the Five-Stroke Roll on the Drumset

by Mike Johnston

One of the most common questions I get from students is about applying rudiments on the kit. They want to know how to use these combinations of notes that they’ve put so much time into, and how to create something interesting with them instead of just playing them on a rubber pad—and I don’t blame them.

One mistake that’s often made when applying a rudiment to the drumset is thinking that it has to be played in the exact same way you were playing it on the practice pad. Yes, in the beginning you’ll want to transfer the rudiment verbatim from pad to kit. But after you become comfortable with it, you need to go deeper. Explore new sounds and textures. Allow the rudiment to become an inspiration for creativity rather than a set-in-stone rule that can’t be broken.

In this lesson we start with one of my all-time favorite rudiments, the five-stroke roll. We’ll use it in a groove with its normal sticking, and we’ll play it on one surface, the way you would on a practice pad. Then we’ll start to change it up by moving the sticking to different surfaces, and we’ll even change the sticking. I know—technically speaking, when you change the sticking, it’s no longer a pure five-stroke roll. But who cares? This is art! Let the five-stroke roll be an inspiration to create something new, and don’t let it box you into a situation that doesn’t allow for growth. Have fun with it!

Let’s begin by playing a five-stroke roll on the hi-hat, starting on the “&” of beat 2.

Now let’s try a different orchestration by starting the roll on the snare and finishing on the hi-hat.

Once you have the sound of the five-stroke roll embedded in your body, explore alternative stickings and orchestrations that achieve the same effect. The next example is based on the inverted five-stroke roll.

Let’s add some spice by dropping a kick drum on the last 32nd note of the roll.

Here’s a variation that brings in the hi-hat foot and a rimclick to create a new texture.

Finally, here are two examples that create a pseudo double bass effect. The five-stroke variations are moved to the “&” of beat 3 as well.


Mike Johnston runs the educational website mikeslessons.com, where he offers prerecorded videos as well as real-time online lessons. He also hosts weeklong drum camps at the mikeslessons.com facility each year.