The ability to play a smooth and controlled roll at all dynamics and throughout a crescendo and diminuendo is extremely important for the timpanist to develop.
It is very common for composers to rely on the timpani to lead the entire orchestra in dynamics and for the timpani to create drama and mood with carefully written rolls at all dynamics.
You will find that the optimal roll speed for a medium loud or mezzo forte roll will be different for a very loud or fortissimo roll.
If you play a fortissimo roll at the same speed as you played your mezzo forte roll you will most likely hear each individual strike of the drum as if you were playing a measured rhythm instead of a smooth tone.
Therefore your roll speed needs to increase as you get louder and conversely your roll speed usually needs to decrease as you get softer to maintain the sustained tone the you are trying you create with a roll.
Some important things to Practice when working on Timpani Rolls
- Practice your rolls at various dynamics separately. Understand how your roll speed needs to change as you get louder and softer
- Then play a crescendo over 8 bars (quarter note equals 100). Start your crescendo at the softest you can possibly play and gradually over the course of the 8 bars get to the loudest you can possibly play
- Then play a diminuendo (getting softer) over the course of 8 bars; make sure that you diminuendo smoothly
Optimal Timpani Roll Speed
Telling you what the optimal roll speed is not possible because there are too many variables to figure into the equation. You have to listen to your roll and understand when you are playing so fast that you are actually inhibiting the drum head and in essence you are dampening one stroke with the next.
By experimentation and practice you will learn to recognize when your roll is too fast or too slow.
Watch the Video Lesson for Playing Timpani Rolls from Soft to Loud and Back
Keep in mind:
- It’s better to be too slow than too fast
- Practice at 72 beats per quarter and play 32nd notes. If you can hear too many individual strokes as you play increase the roll speed slightly.
- You will hear as you get louder that your roll speed needs to increase but be careful not to go too fast.