My question is about tied/slurred tremolos in percussion music notation.

I've had my bongo drums for almost half my life, and am just now deciding to buy a book and learn how to play Afro-Cuban rhythms rather than just messing around with whatever comes out of my brain.

Going through the rhythms, Trevor Salloum's "The Bongo Book" notates rolls with slurs and ties:

slurred percussion tremelo

tied percussion tremelo

Two questions:

  1. In 4/4 time, does a quarter note marked with a 3-stroke tremolo tied/slurred with an eighth note mean 10 strokes total?

  2. In the case of a quarter note marked with a 3-stroke tremolo slurred with an eighth note on a different drum, does this mean 8 strokes on the first drum and then 2 strokes on the second drum?

Clarification: playing with hands and not sticks

  • 1
    I am guessing you are playing with your hands and not sticks. The number of hits in your roll may vary depending on tempo. Yes you hit the other drum at the end of the roll in that first example. Don’t over think it at this point. Drrrrrrr-bop! Drrrrrr-dop! Start on 1. End on 2.
    – b3ko
    Nov 8, 2019 at 3:20
  • Since there is no tremolo marking on the second note in both cases, have you considered 8 strokes for the first note and only 1 stroke for the second?
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 8, 2019 at 11:47
  • A tie is not the same as slur. I tie acts like a dotted note: extend the duration of the note for the duration of the tied note. A slur means to play separate beats but run them together.
    – Stinkfoot
    Nov 8, 2019 at 23:24
  • Yes, I am aware that a tie is not the same as a slur--what I couldn't figure out is what the roll shorthand does to both of them in percussion notation. Nov 9, 2019 at 13:23

3 Answers 3


3 slashes on a note means to play as many notes as possible in the space of that one note duration. The exact number of notes is not specified because it will depend on the tempo. This is the standard way to notate an unmeasured roll for percussion instruments (and tremolo for string instruments). If you see this in snare drum notation, then it would be called a buzz roll. The note after the roll is played totally normally. Just one note. The slur/tie is more of a gestural thing, showing that the roll goes all the way to the next note, leading into it. They are part of the same musical gesture.

You might also see a note with 1 or 2 slashes through its stem. The slashes are 'virtual beams'. They indicate to fill the note's duration using shorter notes with as many beams as there are slashes. If you see slashes through notes which already have beams/flags, then you're adding as many beams as slashes. For example:

  • half note + 1 slash = 4 eighth notes
  • half note + 2 slashes = 8 sixteenth notes
  • eighth note + 1 slash = 2 sixteenth notes

This is a notational shorthand which saves the composer work and makes the score easier to read for the performer. You see this a lot in string parts. When you get to 3 slashes, it becomes "as many as possible", basically, and is called unmeasured tremolo, or usually just tremolo. If you see this in drum notation, for instance a group of eighth notes where 1 note has 1 slash through its stem, then it's meant to be 2 sixteenth notes performed as a double stroke.

sources: "Bowed Tremolo: A single pitch is repeated as often as possible during the length of the written note by means of short, quick up- and -down-bow strokes." - Adler, The Study of Orchestration, 3rd ed., p.29

http://learndrumsforfree.com/2018/04/reading-buzz-rolls-and-double-stroke-markings/ (covers both percussion and string usage of this notation)

  • Thank you for your answer, this helps me a lot to understand the author's intent. I slowed down the recording of the author playing some of these rhythms and I counted 7 strokes in a couple of these rolls. So, clearly the intent was not to be exact but to say "I want a roll with as many strokes as I can get here." Thank you! Nov 9, 2019 at 13:31
  • @PeterMitchell and ibonyun: The correct definition of 3 slashes is that it means 32nd notes. Whether they should be played exact, which is eight 32nd notes for the duration of a quarter note, or they should be played as fast as possible depends on the tempo of the quarter notes. With fast tempo you can play as fast as possible, but with a slower tempo you can play exactly eight 32nd notes. If the tempo is slow and the composer wants you to play as fast as possible he will write 4 slashes and If the tempo is extremely slow you can even encounter sheet music with 5 slashes, but that is rare. Nov 9, 2019 at 22:12
  • 1
    @LarsPeterSchultz I have never seen more than 3 slashes. Can you show me an example? It would certainly be non-standard. Yes, the 3 slashes can also mean 32nd notes, but that's rarely what is intended. Even at slow tempos, 99.9% of the time "as fast as possible" is what the composer wants.
    – ibonyun
    Nov 11, 2019 at 3:21
  • @ibonyun - Dunno about examples from real sheet music, but Musescore gives the 4-slash tremolo option, and I've also actually used it in an arrangement of a particularly slow piece of music because 32nd notes were still too discernable at that speed.
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 11, 2019 at 15:21
  • @Dekkadeci I wouldn't want to see 4-slash tremolo on a score for the same reason I don't want to be reading 64th notes. It's ugly and hard to read. If you want "as fast as possible" and you're worried the performers won't know what to do because the tempo is so slow, just write "trem" above the staff. Problem solved. Now it's unambiguous.
    – ibonyun
    Nov 11, 2019 at 16:23

@ibonyun made a comment in the comments section to his answer. I need to answer with images which can not be done as a comment, besides there is also a need for this subject to be further sorted out.

ibonyun wrote:

LarsPeterSchultz I have never seen more than 3 slashes. Can you show me an example? It would certainly be non-standard. Yes, the 3 slashes can also mean 32nd notes, but that's rarely what is intended. Even at slow tempos, 99.9% of the time "as fast as possible" is what the composer wants.

You need more knowledge and/or information on this matter. I have seen tremolo with 4 slashes many times. The tempo does matter.

Here is an example from Dvorak's 9th symphony. This image is from the 1.st violin part. Note the 4 slashes for the tremolo in the slow part, Adagio, and the 3 slashes in the next part, Allegro Molto:

Dvorak's 9th symphony 1.st violin part

Sometimes there are discussions among musicians whether to play unmeasured or measured if the tempo allows a measured version. Note that among string players the term "tremolo" is applied in the meaning unmeasured tremolo, so it can happen that a composer write "tremolo" or "trem." in a string part in order to clarify that it should be unmeasured tremolo. Here is an image from Bruckner's symphony 5, it is the violin 2 part:

Bruckner's symphony 5, violin 2

In percussion parts it is common to write Tr (trill) instead of slashes under the notes (although slashes can be used). "Tr" occurs often in timpany and snare drum parts. Here is an example from Mahler symphony 2, snare drum part:

Mahler symphony 2, snare drum

And finally an image with a fraction from the solo piano part in Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto, second movement:

Fraction from Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto

¤¤¤ ¤¤¤

Because of a comment @ibonyun wrote below I find I need to make an elaboration to this answer as follows:

ibonyun wrote:

... To reiterate, 4 slashes is exceptional, as in non-standard, and 99% of the time 3 slashes means unmeasured tremolo...

You are correct that 3 slashes are much more common, but there is certainly nothing non-standard with 4 slashes. I am quite surprised by encountering that idea. As I said above I have seen tremolo with 4 slashes many times.

There are sometimes discussions amongst musicians, including conductors, on whether to play measured or unmeasured tremolo even when there are 4 slashes. It can also happen that a composer wants 4 slashes played measured although that is probably rare. Below I have posted two images with examples of tremolo with 4 slashes.

First an image from the book "The Cambridge Guide to Orchestration" by Ertuğrul Sevsay:

Tremolo Notation

Second an image I made with four examples of 4 slashed tremolo written by different composers:

Examples with 4 slashed tremolo

  • I'm a university educated composer and orchestrator. I do know what I'm talking about. However, I'm not a string player, so I have never encountered these exceptional pieces using 4 slashes. Thank you for the example. To reiterate, 4 slashes is exceptional, as in non-standard, and 99% of the time 3 slashes means unmeasured tremolo. I will grant -- have already granted -- that 3 slashes can mean measured 32nds. I guess context is important, and that would include tempo.
    – ibonyun
    Nov 12, 2019 at 4:39
  • On a somewhat related note, I've found 64th-note runs in Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos. 2 and 3 - and Pomp and Circumstance March No. 3 in C Minor is marked quarter note = 138 bpm.
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 12, 2019 at 9:54
  • @ibonyun Well, we are probably many people who know what we are talking about. Anyway I have made a big elaboration in my post with more examples of 4 slashed tremolo. Nov 27, 2019 at 0:27

Afro-Cuban doesn't admit a range of tempos broad enough to admit a Beethoven Adagio. This genre won't include examples with four or five slashes. Three means as fast as possible.

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