Our ability to manipulate a stick enables us to expand our creativity and musicality. One misunderstood aspect of hand development is the ability to play a smooth buzz roll. While most of us may never get to the level of Danny Gottlieb, Joe Morello, or Vinnie Colaiuta, we still must make it a daily task to get closer to the goal of relaxed and expressive hands.

Hand development and stick control are a lifelong endeavor to serious drummers. I see many young players who have decent chops at a medium to loud dynamic level, but lack the ability to play with subtle finesse. The ultimate way to tell if you need to develop your subtle side is to take a look at the current state of your buzz roll. If you tense up or stick out those pinkies when you play a buzz roll you are in need of a tune up.

To play a buzz roll you are essentially getting as many rebounds from the stick as possible. Buzz rolls are a great way to add expression or elongate a note, and they should usually be played with a rhythmic pulse within the hands. This pulse would be based on the primary (or single) stroke movement created by the hands, just like playing a clean open roll.

If you tense up or stick out those pinkies when you play a buzz roll you are in need of a tune up.

Here are three exercises that should get you on the right path to smoothness. I was able to development my buzz roll and overall control by spending time with the book Master Studies by Joe Morello. This book is great if you are looking for new ideas and heightened stick awareness. One of the best things about this book is that you can basically open it to any page and you will immediately be drawn in to what it has to offer. The section on “Buzz Combinations” is amazing for buzz roll development (Ex. 1).


Start with a series of even sixteenth-notes. Add an accent on each downbeat. Now diddle (play thirty-seconds) on the accented note. Next, buzz only the accented note. No need to strive for perfection at first. Notice if you are getting tense when playing the buzzed note. If tension appears, slow it down until the tension is gone, then slowly increase the tempo over time. Finally, move the accented note to every partial of the sixteenth-note series.


Ex. 1

Next, play one bar of even, unaccented sixteenth-notes followed by one bar of an open roll (thirty-second-notes) followed by a buzz roll (Ex. 2). Your hands should constantly be moving at the same rate as the first bar of single sixteenths. Again, look out for tension when playing the rolls.


Ex. 2

Finally, take a basic sixteenth-note reading exercise with sparse sixteenth-notes and lots of rests—Gary Chester’s book New Breed would be a good start. While playing a continuous buzz roll, accent the written notes (Ex. 3).


Ex. 3

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.