Ornamentation: rolls, cranns, and strike cranns on the ocarina

Side Note

Before playing these, it is essential to be proficient with cuts and strikes.

Rolls and cranns are ornaments formed from multiple cuts and strikes played sequentially. These patterns can serve two different functions in music:

  • Articulate multiple notes in sequence
  • Emphasize the attack of a note

These ornaments are commonly used in folk music, although I do not believe that their use should be limited to it. Consequently, this page is meant to generalise the concept. I do not include the idiosyncrasies of their use in folk music traditions for this reason. They are an feature that the ocarina is able to perform and I feel that neglecting them is not taking full advantage of the instrument. Though like a good chef doesn't use every ingredient in every meal, you may not want to use every articulation or ornament in every tune.

A notation system for cuts and strikes

Before introducing rolls, it is necessary to introduce a means of notating cuts and strikes. I will be using Grey Larsen's excellent notation system. Cuts will be notated using a comma above a note, see the following image. To play this, you would tongue the A to start it cleanly, then play the following 3 notes in a continuous slur. Articulate the beginning of them using a cut.

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Strikes will be notated using a down arrow. The following would be started the same as the cuts example, slurring the following notes and articulating them using strikes.

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If you wish to use this notation in your own music and the symbols are an issue, you can convey the same intent using text annotations. 'ST' means strike, 'CT' means cut.

( A  "ST" A "ST" A  "ST" A ) |( A  "CT" A "CT" A  "CT" A )
Side Note

In some folk traditions, it is common to notate cuts and strikes using grace notes. I think this notation is misleading as it differs from the accepted meaning of 'grace notes' in classical music. In that tradition, the term refers to short notes which precede a parent note for ornamental purposes. They have a definite pitch and are meant to be in tune.

The intent of a cut or strike is different. They are short 'blips' placed on the beat, and used to articulate the start of a note. When played well, the duration of a cut or strike is incredibly brief. They are not perceived with an absolute pitch and it does not matter if they are in tune. How the notation is written and interpreted also differs. There are at least two notations in use which need to be interpreted differently.

Do not think of fingered articulations as notes in their own right, or classical grace notes, as you will find it much more difficult to learn how to use them effectively. They are best considered articulations and are used interchangeably with tonguing.

Rolls — articulating multiple notes in sequence

The basic concept of a roll is an articulation of multiple notes in sequence. Say you wanted to play the following using fingered articulations. While you could do this using two cuts or two strikes, it is ergonomically useful to alternate as this enables the work to be spread across two hands. As well played cuts and strikes are so brief, whether the pitch is higher or lower is hard to discern, so they are basically interchangeable.

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The following shows how this would be played. Tongue the first note and play the remaining 2 in a single slur. Articulate the second note using a cut and the third by using a strike. Spend a few minutes playing through this repeatedly and particularly pay attention to getting both the cut and strike exactly on the beat. Practising to a metronome is a good idea.

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The term 'roll' is often used to refer to a single instance of the pattern, two notes the first articulated using a cut and the second with a strike. As fingered articulations are only effective when the instrument is sounding, it is normal to slur into this pattern from a previous note which I will call the 'prefix'. The prefix can have any duration and is usually the same pitch as the notes of the roll though doesn't have to be. It is possible to play a two note roll, but the first cut would be a tongued cut.

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Rolls can be performed on every note on the ocarina besides the highest, lowest, and subholes. Most accidentals can also be rolled. The only requirement is to have a finger covering a hole and a free raised finger to strike with. Preferably, these should be on two different hands. The ocarina offers more freedom than tubular instruments because strikes can be played with any free raised finger against an open hole. To give a few examples, assuming C fingerings:

  • Both low E and F can be rolled by cutting with the left middle finger and striking with the right ring finger.
  • High B and C can be rolled by cutting with the left thumb and striking with the right index finger.
  • G and A can be rolled by cutting with the left middle finger and striking with the right index finger.

Once you start to experiment with this, it should be obvious how to roll other notes. Note that you should not attempt to 'strike' with a subhole or a part-covered split hole. The brief duration of a strike is created by a finger bouncing off the instrument. Achieving the same thing with a finger slide is practically impossible as you are fighting sliding friction.

More examples

Here are a few examples of rolls in 4/4. Note that they are examples of what rolls can be and some are a bit complex. You may not want to use all of these forms at first.

Rolls can be applied to any two sequential notes of any duration. They can be prefixed by a note of any duration. As the first example shows, the cut and struck note can also vary in their duration.

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Rolls work well for articulating 3 8th notes of the same pitch, particularly in compound time signatures like 3/8, 6/8, and 9/8. The first 8th is slurred or tongued, the second is cut, and the third is struck. The first example with 3 8th notes of the same pitch is called a long roll in Irish traditional music. The other two examples show how the prefix note can be higher or lower. These require a descending or ascending cut to be used.

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It is also possible for the cut and struck note to be of different pitches. This only really works if the struck note is lower as strikes aren't very effective on ascending intervals.

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If you continue to alternate cuts and strikes, you can separate an arbitrary number of sequential notes. Below is the pattern used to articulate a string of 8th notes. However, there are problems with using the term 'roll' to refer to this usage of articulation, particularly where there are an odd number of articulations. The second example below, for instance, is the beginning of Jim Ward's Jig, with 4 notes in sequence. It is common to separate them by tonguing the first, cutting the second, striking the third, and cutting the fourth. This is essentially a roll and a half.

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Some would call this an extended roll, but I find that needlessly complex. It's really just an articulation of 3 notes alternating cuts and strikes because it's easier. If every possible form had its own name, you would quickly end up with a huge number of names. I think this would be confusing as they would be names for things that are essentially the same. See the points I make at the bottom relating to notation.

Rolls: as emphasis

While many uses for alternate cuts and strikes are just an articulation of sequential notes, rolls can also be used for emphasis. As the ocarina cannot vary its sounded volume, creating emphasis depends on varied articulation. For example, cuts can be used to emphasize the notes that land on the beat. Note that the first cut in this example is a tongued cut.

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While one cut can create effective emphasis, you can enhance the effect by placing a strike very slightly later. This is effectively still a roll, though its function changes from separating notes to a kind of double articulation of a single note. Say you have two half notes in series and you want to emphasize the second. You can use a roll with tight timing to do this as shown in the following notation. Performing this effectively requires well developed cuts/strikes as well as an ocarina with fast response time. It is a good idea to practise it slowly, but keep the cut/strike played as brief as possible.

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You can amplify the emphatic effect by putting the cut and strike even closer together. Going further still, 'double cut' and double strike rolls exist. This is done by halving the duration of the first note and inserting a second cut. Performing these is best done by cutting with multiple fingers. How to do so is discussed in 'cranns' later.

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It is also worth noting that a roll doesn't need to have a very short duration to be emphatic in all cases. If you have a very long note, even a fairly widely spaced roll can be effective. You should note that the emphatic effect depends on context. For example, if you have a sparse melody then have a sequence of rapid articulations at the beginning of a note, it stands out. If the melody is already busy, however, the effect would be less pronounced and may go unnoticed. It may be more effective to insert an unexpected long note in the latter case.

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There is a catch related to rolls vs emphatic rolls in Irish traditional music. This music often has an implicit 'lilt' or 'swing', and the roll's timing changes to fit around it: for example, in jigs the first note in a group of 3 is played slightly longer—approximately as shown on the right in the next example. This means that the cut and strike on the second and 3rd note are closer together, which can make the roll sound emphatic when its main intent is an articulation of 3 notes. It is not always easy to say that a roll is definitely an articulation or definitely emphatic, as there is a notable grey area.

A4"CT"A4"ST"A4 | A4-A A2-A A4 |
Note: The Roll is NOT a turn!

While this should be fairly obvious from my prior explanation, there is a classical ornament called a turn which superficially looks similar to a roll, especially emphatic rolls. But they are not the same. A turn is a 4 note ornament where the duration of a note is divided equally between the note above, the target note, the note below, and the target note.

"Turn Notation" !turn! B2 z2 | "Played" B/A/G/A/ |

The cut and strike in a roll are extremely brief relative to the notes around them. When played well, they are perceived as articulations and you only hear 2 or 3 notes, depending on if the roll is prefixed. As cuts and strikes have a constant duration, the intermediate notes become shorter as the roll is played faster. At very high speeds, they may approach the sound of a turn. When played slowly, however, rolls and turns sound very different.

The graphic below visualises the approximate timings of these. Note that this graphic shows an ideal roll. In practice, the cut is usually longer than the strike due to the mechanics of how they are played.


A roll is an ornament that is formed from a cut followed by a strike, articulations created by very briefly sounding the note above, then the note below. The duration of a note is divided into three equal periods of time, and you articulate the first note with a cut, and the second with a strike. Ideally cuts and strikes should have a very short duration, so short that their pitch is not perceived


A turn is a musical ornament which divides a period of time equally into 4. You play the note above the target note, the target note, the note below, and finally the target note


On the ocarina, there are a few notes which are impossible to roll. Assuming C fingerings, low C and any subhole notes are impossible to strike as there are no raised fingers. The highest note cannot be cut as there are no covered holes. It is still possible to achieve a similar effect on these notes, which is commonly called a crann. The basic idea of a crann is to separate multiple notes in sequence using only cuts. As playing multiple sequential cuts on the same finger at speed is very difficult, multiple fingers are used. It works better since one finger can prepare to cut while the other is still in the air. Cranns can be both an articulation of sequential notes or emphatic, depending on the rhythm and context.

The next example shows a general use of a crann, which follows the same pattern as a roll but only uses cuts. You can play the first cut using the left middle finger and the second using the right index finger. Make sure that the first cutting finger has returned to its hole before performing the second cut. This is shown in the first demonstration in the video.

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Cranns are most often used on notes that are impossible to strike, although it is possible to use them on any note where enough fingers are covering holes to play the required cuts. If you wish to separate multiple notes in sequence, you can loop through the fingerings. To articulate 4 C's in sequence, cut in the order of: left middle finger, right index finger, left middle finger, right index finger. Doing this generally gives enough time for the finger to recover from its prior action.

Cranns can also be used to articulate longer sequences of notes, and notes with differing rhythmic values as in the second example. In the case of a straight rhythm, for instance 4 8th notes, this can be done by continuing to alternate the left middle finger and right index finger. In the case of 3 sequential notes as in the second example, I find it easiest to perform the cuts using 3 different fingers—here, the left middle, left ring, and right index finger.

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If the rhythmic value of the notes is shortened, the crann can also be used in an emphatic form. The 8th notes would be replaced with 16th or 32nd notes. This is basically the same as an emphatic roll, but done using only cuts.

Strike cranns

A strike crann takes the same idea as a crann but uses only strikes. They can be applied to the ocarina's high notes. As far as I know, it is unique to the ocarina. Rolls and cranns may be performed on any tubular wind instrument but, on such instruments, it is only possible to play a strike using the finger below the lowest closed hole. As an ocarina's entire chamber oscillates, you can play a strike on the ocarina using any open hole. Consequently, it is possible to use multiple strikes on multiple fingers in sequence.

Like rolls and cranns, they can be used in both articulation and emphatic forms. It is best to perform them using different fingers. For instance, the first example can be played by striking with the left middle finger and right index finger. In the second emphatic example a 3rd strike may be performed on the left middle finger. Like the demonstration of the emphatic crann it is played slowly.

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Notating rolls, cranns, and strike cranns

In my opinion, the best way to notate rolls, cranns, and strike cranns for ocarina music is to notate the individual cuts and strikes along with the intended rhythm. While it is possible to name and create symbols for rolls consisting of a given rhythm, this would quickly result in a huge number of names, particularly if rolls formed from notes of different pitches were also included. I feel this would be confusing as they would be names for slight variations of the same thing. The specifics would be closely tied to the intended effect in a given piece of music and will have questionable applicability in a general sense.

Such naming systems are common within folk music. For example, Irish music has 'long' and 'short' rolls. It works in this context because the number of forms used within the genre is quite limited. Even then, it is an oral tradition and there are notable differences between players. Grey Larsen has studied these and has created a taxonomy of at least 13 different forms in common use.

The following example shows two different notations for an Irish long roll, and how it is played to the right. A roll can be noted by an arched line or a tilde (~) above a note. Be aware that a tilde can also signify a mordant (short trill) or a turn in some cases, which are different things. See the note above explaining the difference between rolls and turns.

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If you are interested in learning more about the types of rolls that appear in Irish traditional music, I recommend reading The Essential Guide to Irish Flute And Tin Whistle. This book is exhaustively detailed and is easy to adapt to the ocarina.

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