For our fourth speed lesson we will concentrate on exercises that will help you develop a smooth, even sounding single stroke roll. Although a single stroke roll is one of the easiest techniques to learn, it is one of the most difficult to master.
The key to playing a fast single stroke roll is to keep your sticks no higher than about 1” from the surface of the drum. If you’re not yet familiar with my tension-free approach to drum technique, check out my previous Speed Lesson "Developing the One-Handed Roll" for a detailed explanation. We will apply the same technique to the exercises that follow, except that we will add the other hand as we alternate sticks on the sixteenth-note triplets.
Before working on the following exercises, watch my video demonstration. Although I’m playing the slower version at a metronome tempo of quarter-note equals 120 bpm, you should start at 80 bpm or slower at first. Repeat each two-bar exercise once before moving to the next without stopping. Once you work through all eight exercises using the left hand lead as shown in the written notation, repeat from the beginning using a right hand lead (that is, reverse all written sticking.) As always, start slowly and use a metronome. Once you are able to play each exercise precisely at a given tempo, increase the speed and write down your metronome marking so you can keep track of your progress. Watch the video and you see a demo of the exercises played up to speed at a metronome tempo of 168 bpm and even a little taste of 200 bpm.
If you get to the point where you can continuously repeat the last exercise (all sixteenth-note triplets) for 60 seconds, you will be playing nearly 1,000 strokes per minute (960 to be exact). To put that into perspective, that’s a little bit faster than Buddy Rich. But why stop there? The sky’s the limit. Practice regularly and your speed will increase, but listen carefully as you practice. When your single stroke begins to sound uneven, back down a notch or two on the metronome tempo. Find your control speed, which is the speed at which you can play a given exercise cleanly and without tension. Once you perfect the single stroke roll at your control speed, kick the metronome speed up a notch and try again. A smooth, clean single stroke roll should be in every drummer’s bag of tricks, whether you’re interested in competing in an official World’s Fastest Drummer Competition or simply looking to be the best drummer you can be.