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

Welcome to the final blog post of "Roll Call"! This week we'll be looking at the execution and use of rhythm syllables for rolls in a strathspey. As I've discussed in previous blog posts the strathspey is the least understood, most frustrating and mysterious style we play. Amorphous terms like "bounce", "pulse", "lift" and "strong-weak-medium-weak" are thrown around liberally but never fully explained. Rolls in the strathspey style can also be confusing as several types of rolls can appear in multiple ways. To make matters even more interesting, rhythm syllables in the strathspey are borrowed from the march, round reel and jig styles! The rolls that commonly appear in strathspeys are:

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

The first line of each musical example contains the roll as it would appear in the music and then, on the line below, each roll is broken down into its individual tap and buzz strokes. In each breakdown I have placed an accent on the last note of odd numbered rolls and on the first and last note of even numbered rolls to help define the roll visually. In a drum score, the final note of a roll is NOT always accented.


Four and Five Stroke Rolls

Fours and fives can either appear as part of a triplet, as in examples #1, #2 and #3 or on the "cut" of a dot/cut or cut/dot rhythm. The rhythm syllables used for each example for both fours and fives are borrowed from the jig. If you prefer to use more traditional syllables I'll include those as well.

  • Example #1: Jig-a dee dee or One-a trip let
  • Example #2: Dee jig-a dee or One trip-a let
  • Example #3: Dee dee jig-a or One trip let-a
  • Example #4: Jig-a dee [dee] or One-a trip [let] (the eighth note rest is in brackets as it should be said but not played)
  • Example #5: Dee [dee] jig-a or One [trip] let-a



Five stroke rolls use the same syllables as fours but are written without an accent and played with a buzz on the first note. The rhythm syllables above also apply to the following five stroke rolls.



Six and Seven Stroke Rolls

Six stroke rolls are the hardest of the strathspey rolls to recognize as they can begin on three different types of notes: regular eighth notes, triplet eighth notes or dotted eighth notes! For the first three examples the rhythm syllables are borrowed from the round reel and the march. For the final two examples, the application of rhythm syllables is difficult so I'll provide a written description to clarify. Examples #1 and #2 borrow their syllables from the round reel style and example #3 steals its syllables from the march.

  • Example #1: Ti-ka Ti-ka or 1-e-&-a (one-ee-an-da)
  • Example #2: Ti-ka Ti-ka Tah or 1-e-&-a 2 (one-ee-an-da two)
  • Example #3: Can-I Ca-na-da Boom or 1-e-an-a-da 2 (one-ee-an-a-da two)

Example #4 and #5 are a little more complicated. In both of these examples the six stroke roll is written as part of a triplet. However, the roll must be played as a "triplet within a triplet" to achieve the proper execution. Obviously, triplets are made up of three notes. In both #4 and #5 the six stroke roll is played as a faster triplet over two notes of the original triplet. In example #4, the "triplet within a triplet" occurs over the last two notes of the original triplet. In example #5 the "triplet within a triplet" occurs over the last note of the first group of three and the first note of the second group of three. Notice the fact that the two triplets are beamed together as there is no way to properly write this rhythm if the triplets are separated. This bizarre type of subdivision is but one of the many reasons why the strathspey style is misunderstood and poorly executed by so many players. It has become clear to me that a video blog that further explains this "triplet within a triplet" phenomenon would be useful so look for that in the coming weeks.


Seven stroke rolls commonly appear in two ways. The first, as in example #1 below, is the most common beginning on a dotted sixteenth note. The rhythm syllables are borrowed from the round reel style:

  • Example #1: Ti-ka Ti-ka or 1-e-&-a (One-ee-an-da)

Examples #2 and #3 of the seven stroke roll are played the same way as examples #4 and #5 for the six stroke roll above.



Eight and Nine Stroke Rolls

Finally we come to some rolls that are quite straightforward! The rhythm syllables both examples are borrowed from the round reel style:

  • Example #1: Ti-ka Ti-ka Tah or 1-e-&-a 2 (One-ee-an-da Two)
  • Example #2: *Tim-ri Ti-ka Ti-ka or 1 [e-&] a 2 (One [ee-an] da Two)



The nine stroke roll is played the same way as the eight but with a buzz on the first note instead of a tap. The rhythm syllables used are also identical.



*The rhythm syllable "Tim-ri" is not included in the "Round Reel: Theory and Rhythm Syllables" section of the site. The "Tim" syllable occurs on the first of a group of four notes and the "ri" syllable occurs on the last note of a group of four. Using the standard counting "1-e-&-a" the "Tim" would be said on "1" and the "ri" would be said on "a".


Sixteen and Seventeen Stroke Rolls

The rhythm syllables for sixteens and seventeens are the same for both types of rolls and are also borrowed from the round reel style.

  • Examples #1 and #2: Ti-ka Ti-ka Ti-ka Ti-ka Tah or 1-e-&-a 2-e-&-a 3 (One-ee-an-da Two-ee-an-da Three)



Again, the even numbered roll begins with a tap as in the example above and the odd number roll begins with a buzz as in the example below.



That's a wrap for Roll Call! If any of you have any questions or require further explanation, please contact me! I'm always looking for ideas for new blog posts and the ones that come from you always get priority. Now that you have this blog series to use as a reference start looking at your music and begin the process of identifying and properly executing your rolls in each style. Let me know where you're having success or if you encounter any roadblocks. We'll get through this together!

Thanks to all of you that have shared the blog posts so far, subscribed to the Youtube channel and have checked out the newly renovated rudiments section (now with video examples). The more people that know about the site the more people I can help to understand and learn our awesome style of drumming!

Until next time...

Happy Drumming!

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