Composers, arrangers, and producers have long understood the power of a suspended cymbal roll. A cymbal roll is equally at home swelling to a climax in Percy Grainger's "Irish Tune from County Derry" or smoothing a transition in a Chris Tomlin song.
The Right Gear
A superb cymbal roll starts with the right gear—especially the cymbal itself. For suspended cymbal work, choose a plate that is relatively thin so that the instrument can easily vibrate and ‘speak’ at a very soft volume level. Some manufacturers produce cymbals that are specifically designed for suspended cymbal performance. (Those are easy to identify because the word 'suspended' is stamped on the plate.) A thin crash cymbal designed for use with a drum set will also function as a suspended cymbal. For general performance, I recommend plates between 16-19 inches in diameter.
You may observe orchestral percussionists hanging a cymbal with a leather strap from a ‘gooseneck’ stand. I prefer the stability and convenience of a conventional center-post stand. Prevent buzzes and extraneous noises by equipping the post with a plastic sleeve and felt washer.
Drum sticks, wire brushes, and bundled rods may be used for cymbal rolls, but the more common implement is a soft-headed mallet. Specially designed mallets for suspended cymbal performance are available for purchase, or yarn-wrapped marimba mallets (my go-to) are another option.
- Double stroke and buzz rolls on a cymbal are possible using drum sticks, but the single stroke roll is the standard performance practice.
- Roll with one mallet positioned at 3:00 and the other at 9:00 on the cymbal.
- Both mallets should be near the cymbal’s edge for general playing.
- Practice your single stroke roll on a low-sustaining surface to check for evenness between the hands.
- Monitor your roll speed for a smooth sonority. Let your ear guide your hands for the correct rate of motion.
- Explore each cymbal to learn its response and volume peak.
- Practice rolls that begin very softly and crescendo, as well as rolls that start at a loud dynamic level followed by a decrescendo.
- The sound of a cymbal roll is often allowed to naturally dissipate, but sometimes the sound must be stopped suddenly. The ‘choke’ can be accomplished by grabbing the plate between the thumb and fingers to stop vibrations or by gently leaning your abdomen into the edge of the cymbal.
In notated scores, the placement of cymbal rolls is determined by the composer or arranger. When the performer is expected to create a percussion part, the decision to insert rolls is part of the assignment. Transition points such as meter changes, modulations, or changes between song sections are worthy candidates for a cymbal roll. A crescendo roll can lead up to a climax while a decrescendo roll can assist in reducing the energy level in a song. When creating ambient or ethereal textures, consider a well-placed roll. With all the possibilities, resist the urge to overuse the effect.
Countless examples of cymbal rolls are heard in musical styles ranging from classical to rock to modern worship. Along with investing in proper gear and developing a beautiful-sounding roll, study a variety of music to develop concepts for applying this important percussion effect.
(c) 2019 Mark Shelton Productions / Percussion For Worship
This article was previously published in Worship Musician magazine. www.worshipmusician.com