Few would dispute that achieving clean and fluid rolls is one of the great challenges of Celtic Anglo playing. I have divided rolls into 3 sections. ON this page I detail the 7 types I’ve identified.

Another page takes you through every roll on every note from bottom D to top b.

And there is a full chart as well which shows you the abc and the dots for every roll.


There are  more than the seven ways to play rolls that  I describe below. I describe only those which I know of and use. You will also hear of the semitone roll, the Noel Hill 5-note roll and others perhaps. You will have to find other sources if you wish to explore these.   BUt what appears below is certainly enough of a repertoire to have you playing rolls freely.

SO – I would call the playing of rolls one of the ‘black arts’ of traditional music.

A very useful discussion of rolls in general on Anglo, and with detail about fiddle rolls, slap rolls and cran rolls, can be found here – http://www.thesession.org/discussions/display/25676

The  rolling note – I will use in this tutor the term  ‘rolling note’ as a short-hand way of referring to the ‘note to be rolled’. Also, I will use the ( accepted) terms cut, meaning a grace note pitched above the rolling note, and tip, meaning a grace note pitched below the rolled note.

THE ‘FIDDLE’-STYLE ROLL  –  whatever you want to call it. Some call it a fiddle roll, and it is the same as a roll on flute and whistle too. But there is no ‘correct’ term.

It must be said it is not the most seamless and elegant of roll options, but it is definitely used by many players, and can sound fine if played smoothly. Its advantage I feel is that the grace notes are adjacent to the rolling note, and because you use 3 fingers it’s not too hard to master. I use it occasionally when playing a piece which I haven’t got down perfect and need a bit of a ‘safety net’.  You may find it preferable to use on some notes if you can’t quite get the cran roll or slap roll or other sounding right.

Ok, enough said, here’s how it goes:

The rolling note + cut + the rolling note + tip + rolling note

 So that’s a 5-note sequence, and you can do this 2 different ways:

– You can release the first rolling note before you play the cut, and again before the tip, so that all 5 notes are distinct.

Or, you can hold the first rolling note through the cut and tip, release it and hit it again for the 5th note.

The latter will generally sound better, but on some ( not all) notes the 5 distinct notes can provide variety, This is a matter of taste.

THE ‘CRANROLL – this again is only an approximate term, because this ornament is most similar to a cran as played by uillean pipers. It consists of this sequences of notes:

The rolling note + cut + cut (with a different note of course) + rolling note

With this roll and the ‘fiddle roll’ it is crucial that the 2 grace notes are played so quickly and lightly that their pitch is only barely audible. They should be heard more as percussive effects which break up the rolled note. Some players describe the required action as flicking the finger momentarily onto the button.

You can if you wish hold the rolling note throught the 2 grace notes. Some players do, others don’t. But if done well it can sound very effective. It has the added advantage of helping to mask the different pitches of the grace notes. so that they don’t jar.

THE SLAP ROLL ( aka BELLOWS SHAKE, PHANTOM BUTTON) – play the rolling note, release it and then play it again, and whilst holding it down, Tap anywhere on the opposite end of the instrument.   This interrupts the note momentarily, after which it sounds again. Then of course you release the note. So it’s –

rolling note – rolling note – gap ( when you tap it) – rolling note again.

It produces a stuttering ‘roll-like’ effect if you do it quickly and with the right timing. There is no absolutely right way to do this. Two tips which may help – don’t hold the button in too firmly. consciously relax as you play it. Secondly, if your reeds are not very responsive, tap quite firmly, and with 2 fingers if necessary ( I usually use my middle and 4th fingers) to produce the stuuter.

You must experiment until you get the effect which sounds right to you. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but often this trial and error method is the only way to progress on an  instrument. For more reading on this, look at these discussions on the website The Sessionhttp://www.thesession.org/discussions/display/16335/comments#comment339382 .

This is a very long discussion thread and the relevant part starts about half way through ( posting by ‘Phantom Button’ on January 12, 2008). Parts of it are also instructive on techniques 1 and 2 above

THE ‘ADJACENT NOTE’-RIGHT HAND ROLL  –  Again I’ve named this roll in inverted commas because it has no recognised name. It works very well for the notes played by the right hand – from B through to b above – but might work well on some left hand notes too. It’s pretty simple, and consists of this sequence of notes:

The rolling note + cut with the button above + the rolling note again twice

 So that’s a 4-note sequence, and for example it would be thus for the following notes:

– for B:     B + d + B +B
– for c:      c + e + c + c
– for a:      a + c’ + a + a

Simple enough in theory but it’s all in the timing. Those last 2 notes have to be very quick and clearly separated. I hope to attach a recording of these soon for all the notes for which it can be used.

I happened upon this technique partly through experimenting to get a satisfactory f# roll, and then I was given a recording of young Irish player Caitlin Nic Gabhann demonstrating the roll in a private lesson.Who knows ? Maybe lots of the top players use it. Anyway, my gratitude to Caitlin for opening my eyes to this, and to Aussie maker Chris Ghent for passing on the recording to me.

THE STACCATO ROLL – Not used terribly often. It involves playing the rolling note 3 or 4 times, but holding the first note as long as possible – at least a crotchet length. If you combine this with a bellows tap or shake ( see above) it will enhance the stuttering effect. Again you have to experiment to achieve the desired effect, as different-pitched notes will react differently: notes at the low end of the scale will react more slowly than notes an octave above, so the timing of your bellows action and your stutters must adjust accordingly.

There is an accordion-style version of this, but very hard to do.  Play the rolling note for a quaver, then in the next 2 quavers play a triplet on the same button, using 3 different fingers ( index middle and fourth mostly). Accordion players do this all the time as I understand, so it’ll come naturally if you play box as well.  You need your wrist straps looser so that your hand can swivel a bit, and of course concertina buttons are a lot smaller than those on an accordion, so it’s easier to miss. I can’t do it because I don’t like my straps that loose, but have a go yourself.

THE BELLOWS-CHANGE ROLL –  you don’t see this discussed much. Because it requires 2 bellows changes it can drag on a slower instrument, but if executed well produces a seamless effect. It consists of this sequence of notes:

the rolling note + same note ( usually) on adjacent row in opposite direction + adjacent note on starting row in same direction + the rolling note on the original button

 Confused ? Understandable, so here’s an example, on the  pressed note ‘d’ on button G5  –

d (G5) + d ( C7) + e ( G5) + d (G5)

The beauty of this roll is that it involves only 2 buttons. It cannot be used for all notes. It gives a particular effect different to the other rolls. I learnt this technique  from Chris Sullivan, NSW, Australia.

THE DEFAULT  ROLL – Let me say first that ‘default roll’ is my own coinage. I know of no particular name for this technique. The default roll is really just a particular application of the cran roll as described above .

Though this roll is commonly taught as the standard technique for rolls, there seems to be a lot of people whose experience is that it’s not suitable for all notes. Me too, in fact I don’t use it at all, because I just can’t make it sound right. More about that below.

The  default roll  principle is this: you use the 2 buttons C6 and C7 on the RHS as the gracing notes, whether on the pull ( i.e the notes d then B) or the push ( i.e. the notes e then c). And the sequence goes –

The rolling note + note in same direction at button C7 + note in same direction at button C6 + the rolling note again.

And you hold that first note a bit longer than the other three. The 2  middle grace notes should not be audible as melody notes, but as “effects” notes which impart rhythm to the rolling note ( as mentioned  above). Now this technique supposedly works for all notes from bottom D to the A . But from B upwards you mainly use the same principle but move the gracing notes up one position:  buttons C7 and C8. i.e. the notes f and then d on the pull, the notes g then c on the push.

A chart for these rolls is here – the DEFAULT ROLLS CHART pdf.

Problems with the default roll:  Some people contend that the default roll is THE way to roll most notes, and can be used universally. But all the top players use a variety of different roll types. Me too ( but just…not quite as well). I use whatever sounds best on the particular note. 

My  trouble with this technique is that because the gracing notes are up to an octave higher than the rolled note ( e.g. D graced with B and d) their distant pitch inevitably jumps out as jarring and not really an ornament of the rolled note. The common reply to this objection is that you just have to keep practising the technique, play the grace notes lightning fast so pitch is pretty well inaudible.

Well, all I can say is, I’ve practised it for years, and it just don’t work for me. My instrument is no slouch speed-wise. But neither is it a Jeffries, a Suttner nor a Dipper. The  much higher grace notes sound very shrilly and sharply. Aussie concertina-maker and -thinker Chris Ghent reckons that your instrument  needs  very efficiently functioning  reeds  to make the graces work without the pitch sounding. Gracing with notes much closer in pitch to the rolled note ( preferably each within one tone sharper or flatter) sounds much better.

But, that said, if you can make them sound well, well good for you .


Finally, remember, none of these methods are Holy Writ: everyone has found their most effective ways of doing things, and different techniques work better on different instruments. I don’t use all of these, but other people use them and so I offer them as something that may suit your particular concer.

You may also want to have a look at this 2005 rolls discussion on The Session, although you’ll have to wade through a lot of dubious humour and irrelevant postings –


….. and of more peripheral relevance,  this discussion thread, very wide-ranging, and comparing concertina rolls with those on other instruments –