Roll Call: Identifying Rolls in Your Written Music (Part IX: The Strathspey)

In part IX of "Roll Call" we will be learning to identify rolls within the most musically complex style we play: the strathspey. A typical strathspey contains the following rolls types:

  • Four stroke rolls
  • Five stroke rolls
  • Six stroke rolls
  • Seven stroke rolls
  • Eight stroke rolls
  • Nine stroke rolls
  • Sixteen stroke rolls
  • Seventeen stroke rolls

As many of you already know, some strathspeys may contain difficult roll passages that include ten, eleven, twelve and even thirteen stroke rolls. However, these rolls are quite rare and usually only appear in higher level drum scores (grades 1 & 2). For this reason I have chosen not to include them in this post.

Unfortunately, like the style itself, strathspey rolls are complicated and a little confusing. Take the six stroke roll for example: In a 2/4 march a six always begins on a regular eighth note--no exceptions. In a strathspey, however, a six stroke roll can begin with either a dotted eighth note, a regular eighth note or a triplet eighth note! It's no wonder the strathspey style remains mysterious to so many of us. Let's start unravelling this mystery with fours and fives...


Four and Five Stroke Rolls

Four stroke rolls are not that common in strathspeys but they do happen occasionally, especially as part of a long roll sequence inherent in the style. Fours most often occur as part of an eighth note triplet (examples #1, #2 and #3 below) but they also appear on the "cut" (sixteenth) note of a cut/dot or "buddy" rhythm (examples #4 and #5).



Five stroke rolls are much more common than fours. In fact, all of the examples below could easily appear in a grade 4 or 5 drum score. Fives appear identical to fours but are written without an accent on the first note of the roll.



Six and Seven Stroke Rolls

In examples #1 and #2 below we see the two most common occurrences of the six stroke roll. Both of these rolls begin with a dotted eighth note. In example #3, the roll begins with a regular eighth note and is played as part of the "Jigga-da" movement commonly found in grade 3 level scores and above. Finally, in examples #4 and #5, we see the six beginning on a triplet eighth note. These sixes written over triplets are very common within long roll movements.



In every other style (2/4 march, round reel, jig, 6/8 march) there are an equal number of six stroke and seven stroke rolls. In the strathspey style, however, you'll see five types of six stroke rolls but only three types of sevens. The most common seven stroke roll begins with a dotted eighth note as in example #1 below. When looking at your long roll sequences you are sure to see seven stroke rolls written over triplets as in example #2 and #3.



Eight and Nine Stroke Rolls

Eights and nines are typically used in two places: the beginning and ending of a musical phrase. At least several "first" and "third" bars in a strathspey will contain an eight or nine stroke roll. They also commonly appear as the final roll at the end of a part. In their most common form, eights and nines begin with a quarter note and can therefore be identified quite easily as in example #1 below.



Every so often, in higher level scores, you'll see an eight or nine begin on the "cut" note of the "dot/cut" rhythm as in example #2 above. This location of the roll provides a great deal of syncopation helping to propel the music forward. Nine stroke rolls look the same as eights but are not written with an accent on the first note as in the examples below.



Sixteen and Seventeen Stroke Rolls

Sixteens and seventeens take up two full beats but are included in strathspeys within longer crescendo roll movements. These longer rolls are much easier for less experienced drum corps to crescendo than shorter rolls. They can begin either with a half note (example #1 below) or with a quarter note (example #2).



Seventeens appear identical to sixteens but are written without an accent as in the examples below.



Now grab yourself a strathspey score and see if you can pick out your rolls! Remember that it's only the starting note of the roll that defines it. Next week I'll be FINISHING this ten part series discussing the use of rhythm syllables and providing rhythmic breakdowns for these rolls. Until then, happy drumming!


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