How to Properly Perform a Timpani Roll

Timpani rolls are hand to hand single stroke rolls and are unlike snare drum that are bounce or buzz rolls.

To develop a good timpani roll you must:

  • have a nice and relaxed grip
  • play on the optimal playing spot on the drum
  • let your mallets and hands and wrists rebound off of the timpani head.

Timpani rolls do not have to be very fast. In fact, playing too fast will result in a choked sounding roll instead of resonant solid tone.

Start Your Timpani Rolls Slowly and Keep Your Sticks High

The best way to develop your roll is to start slowly and to make sure that your sticks have a good height, bounce off of the head and your sticks, hands and wrists move in a fluid motion. Start by playing eighth notes at a speed of 80 beats per quarter note.

Mastered the Slow Timpani Roll? Start to Pick Up Speed

Once you’ve been able to play this with a good even tone and can maintain a relaxed stroke double the speed to sixteenth notes. Make sure that you remain relaxed and that your stick height doesn’t change from when you were playing the eighth notes.

Now try 32nd  Notes

The next step is to try and play thirty-second notes. This is when things can get tricky for the beginner. The tendency is for the mallet height to get too low on one hand or both and for your wrists to become tense. Take your time and don’t be in a hurry to play too fast, too soon. At this speed you will be playing a timpani roll.


It’s important to realize that playing rolls on different notes and on different sizes of drums means that your roll speed needs to change to make your roll sounds its best.

On low notes and on big drums you will play relatively slowly compared to the roll that you’ll play on a small high pitched drum. There is an optimal speed for every roll that doesn’t choke the sound and doesn’t sound like individual strokes or that your roll sounds like an exact rhythm.

Rolls also need to be fluid. They’re not measured in most cases which mean that you are not playing a rhythmically symmetrical rhythm but your roll will be ‘out of time’ and be ‘in time’ all at once. This is a difficult concept for students to grasp, but watching the accompanying videos will help clear this up.

Soft rolls are generally slower than louder rolls. Practice your rolls at all dynamic levels and be able to play evenly starting as soft as possible to as loud as possible.

Check out this video lesson for more on how to play timpani rolls:

For even more on Timpani rolls, see these videos:

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