It is the summer time and that means marching band season is in full swing! Things that we put out of our mind throughout the rest of the year like just how much time we spend on marching fundamentals and how hot the sun is for three-hour rehearsal blocks are now part of our everyday lives. There are many challenges for the band director as they try to put together a marching show, especially when working in an area outside of one’s specialty like percussion or guard. Inevitably at some point in your show you will be faced with a section that has eighth notes leading into triplet rolls, and likely, your drumline section with struggle with the timing of it. They might rush, they might drag, but regardless it will be bad and the time keepers for your band will find issue with keeping time.
As a young instructor, I would often assume that it was the inability of my students to play triplet rolls in time and would make them play triplet diddle exercises for long stretches only to be frustrated when it didn’t translate into the show music. After a time, I reasoned what many of you probably already have figured out, that the problem isn’t the rolls themselves but the transition between the eighth notes to triplets. Replacing the triplet check pattern in our roll exercise with an eighth note pattern would help, but it would still take a great amount of rehearsal and I was annoyed with how much time a simple measure would take to clean.
Toward the end of my undergraduate study I was performing in a group under the tutelage of Tyler Orbison, a seasoned veteran of the DCI and WGI instructional circuits. His solution to this problem was very elegant and is one that I have employed in my instruction ever since. The issue isn’t that students aren’t understanding that the subdivision changes and they need to feel the difference in pulse, it is that they need to feel the eighth note subdivision within the triplet rolls. Since they will only be playing triplet rolls for a few beats at a time and the rest of the music around it is in a duple feel, it is easier for the mind to stay with the eighth note subdivision throughout than bouncing between multiple subdivisions in a quick period of time. Please note that while this is a useful tool, it is not a magical panacea that will instantly clean up the rolls, it is still going to take a lot of quality reps.
Below you will find a PDF of the exercise in two different forms, the first written out in an easy to understand notation with simple rhythms that the students can count through. The second version showcases what this actually looks like in practice. I will comment that this exercise also works well as a rote-teaching method where you play through each cell individually before moving to the next. The students do not need to understand the theory behind the practice, just the feel of the notes against the met.