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Playing a roll on a cymbal might appear easy, but I've never yet met a high school percussionist who got it right. Attention to the following points will afford your students greater control and have them producing more musical sounds from the suspended cymbal.
  • Match mallets to cymbals
Many try to play cymbals with tympani mallets, which are unsuitable for the job. With an outer felt that is too soft and a core that is too hard, you hear too much of a hit on the attack. Ideally, your school should have several pair of yarn mallets, of different weights and thicknesses, to work properly with various sizes of cymbals.

Have your students experiment with the sounds they’re getting from different cymbal and mallet combinations. Don’t let them use the cymbal that is just nearest at hand. Choosing the right cymbal and mallets should be based on musical considerations. (This is a good opportunity to involve the class in the kind of musical decision percussionists make all the time. Have the whole class listen to various cymbals and decide which sounds best at a certain point in the music.)
  • Roll on the edge of the cymbal, with the mallets directly opposite each other.

Most students roll on the cymbal far too close to the centre. The further toward the centre you roll, the more you hear the attack. Some students roll closer to the edge, but with the mallet heads next to each other as if they’re playing a snare drum.

The roll should be played with the mallets opposite each other, on the left and right edges of the cymbal. (You should be able to draw a straight line from one mallet to the other through the centre of the cymbal.)

  • Don’t roll too quickly

The bigger the cymbal, the slower the roll. Rolling too quickly on a cymbal kills the sound. Have your students experiment with how slowly they can play a roll in order to sustain the sound.
  • Drop the mallets from the same height above the cymbal

As with all percussion playing, if the mallets or sticks are not dropped from the same height above the instrument, one of the strokes will be accented.

Obviously, playing in such a way will produce a very uneven cymbal roll. Many percussionists practise in front of a mirror to monitor the height of their strokes.

  • Practise exercise

Have your students practise rolling slowly over one of two bars, starting pianissimo and ending forte. They should be listening intently and checking all the above mentioned points.

Note: in a score, if a cymbal roll finishes at the end of a bar, there shouldn’t be a downbeat at the beginning of the following bar.

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