#20 -Anybody for a Roll?

How To Play a Roll on the Wooden Flute

The next stop on our whimsical mystery tour through the wonders of ornamentation takes us to the magical land of rolls. There are different kinds of rolls for different situations...a jelly roll with coffee in the morning, for example or a lovey kaiser roll for your hamburger in the afternoon. And of course, the furious rolling of your fingers as we play Irish tunes.

I have heard these finger movements called many different things, i.e. cuts, crans (or cranns), rolls, finger strike, etc. We'll focus on a movement commonly known as a mordent in classical terms, a turn in American fife music, or rolls and crans in Irish music. I don't want to get too hung up on what we call this finger movement. Playing it well is the important thing to me.

Let's start with the basic principle. We're talking about a group of five notes and how, by using breath pulse and finger strike, you can add a new dimension to your playing. It is not uncommon to see a symbol that looks like an S that has fallen forward (~). Sometimes this symbol has a diagonal line through the center of it. This is telling you to start on a note, go up to the next note, back to the original, then one below the original, and back to the original. For an example, lets use G A G F# G as our pattern. Played in a smooth rythym of five notes this could be either a mordant or a turn. When used in traditional Irish music we want to try to create a more percussive, as opposed to melodic, effect.

This is a twofold movement. First, slightly exagerate the length of the first G, then perform a quick up-and-down finger flip to play the A G F# G that follows. The important component of this move is to emphasize the fourth of the five notes by striking hard with the F# finger and timing a breath pulse to coincide with the finger strike. This technique works well for rolls on F#, G, A, and B in both octaves.

On low D, a different technique is applied. Try the following technique at a very slow speed. Play a strong low D on your flute, followed by a quick up-and-down flip of your fifth finger followed by the same movement of you fourth finger, resolving back to D. Be sure that your fifth finger is back down on the flute before moving your fourth finger. This ensures a crisp, stacatto seperation of the notes. This movement will not sound very spectacular played at this speed, but as you gradually speed the movement and the flipping of your fingers, the D cran will magically appear.

You can also use your fourth and third fingers to perform this ornament, but I prefer the sound generated using the method described above. You can also play "extended" crans by flipping fingers five, four, and then three, but this is quite difficult for many players. The same method works in both octaves.

Suggestions for where to use this arsenal of ornamentation will be covered in future tips.