Playing Sustained Notes on Steel Drums

Playing sustained notes on steel drum (steel pan) is achieved by a technique called "rolling". A note is rolled by striking it with the left and right hand (not necessarily in that order) in rapid and alternate fashion. That is, left then right, then left then right and continuing for the duration of the note. The technique used to play single notes must be observed when playing sustained notes so that they will not sound muted or muffled. It is also important that you strike the notes with equal intensity from both hands and that the timing of the strikes is well coordinated. This will avoid uneven sounding rolls.

How do you apply rolling in a musical situation? Let's say that you are playing music and a note that lasts a full measure is encountered. You should roll the note for the full measure. The music that would require you to play rolled notes will mostly include Ballads, Hymns and Classical music. However, you will surely find other music that will call for this technique.

Because music will contain notes of varying duration, it is wise to practice rolling notes that last from several measures of music to as short as two beats. You should also practice mixing rolled notes with notes of shorter duration. This can be done most easily by playing songs. Songs that come to mind are: Oh Holy Night (Christmas Carol), Can't Help Falling in Love (Elvis Presley) and Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D major. These songs contain opportunities for applying rolling technique. Songs with a mixture of sustained notes and notes of shorter duration include: Jingle Bells, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Twinkle twinkle little star and Misty.

When playing the above listed songs, focus on the evenness and consistency of volume of the notes that you roll. If you work diligently on this technique, your playing will become smoother and more professional sounding.

The clip below shows how to roll notes on your steel drum (steelpan)

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Rolling may be practised away from your instrument using both index fingers or your Pan Mallets on a table. If your fingers hurt, you are probably pressing onto the table, which is incorrect. Practise rolling slowly until you become used to the action of your hands, then gradually increase the speed. In time, you will be able to roll a note for as long as you wish. Remember to use only wrist action while rolling or your hands will tire quickly.

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