4 Stroke Ruffs (and Similar)

One of the rudiments on my list of the 16 Most Common International Rudiments is the 4 Stroke Ruff, and by association, several similar 4-note patterns that are used as ornamentation, appoggiatura, or grace notes before a primary note. Despite not exactly appearing on either major American rudiment sheet, a figure with 3 grace notes preceding a primary stroke is quite common in both rudimental and classical playing. It is also one of the oldest rudiments in the British repertoire and makes its American debut as early as the Revolutionary War. Other similar rudiments, sometimes with a different sticking, appear in at least 10 different international rudimental cultures. Even if you don’t have a name for it, you’ve played one. The Anglo-American sticking LRLR or RLRL is unavoidable.



The modern standard American/British single stroke sticking for the 4 Stroke Ruff idea is likely to be the oldest sticking for such a pattern, with the first written record being from around 1650 in England. In the Douce manuscript, the pattern is listed as “4 strokes beginning easy and ending hard.” In the 19th century the name was updated to the Triplet Stroke, but the sticking remained the same. It is still played in the UK today.


The closest thing to a 4 Stroke Ruff on the PAS 40 rudiment sheet is the Single Stroke 4, which is the same number of notes in the same sticking, but is not typically written as a ruff. Most complaints about the snubbing of the 4 Stroke Ruff are met with a quick rebuttal that the Single Stroke 4 is “basically the same rudiment,” though the lack of grace notes can make it confusing for beginning players to equate the two. The 4 Stroke Ruff does not appear in any form on the NARD 26, and the snubbing there is even more prominent. Historically, the 4 Stroke Ruff has been named a rudiment in many method books and rudimental manuals. The earliest reference is from the 1770s, when it was simply called Ruff 1,2,3,4. It continues to appear regularly in American publications up through the 1960s, and still makes an appearance today in books and solos, i.e. everyone knows about it and plays it, even though the name 4 Stroke Ruff is no longer “official.”



The French have been playing a version called the Ra Simples, likely since the 17th century. Beatings listed in the 1705 Philidor Collection, probably written much earlier, clearly show downbeats preceded by 3 faster notes. These figures were named Ra Simples and shown with the specific sticking RLLR in the 1750/60s by Caro and Bombelles. This same sticking is still a feature of French drumming today, called Ra de 4. This French version of the Ruff is roughly contemporaneous with the British version, and so it ranks among the oldest of the 4-Stroke-Ruff-like rudiments. The French also added a rudiment called the Coup Frisés de 4 in the 19th century that uses the British single stroke sticking.


The Swiss may have imported their version of this pattern from the French, since it shares the same RLLR sticking. The first time it appears in a Swiss publication is in 1819, where it is called a Raf. It fell out of favor with the Swiss military by the end of the 19th century, but continues to be used in Basel today under the name Halbe Ruf. It is unknown whether the Basel drummers got their Halbe Ruf from the French or from the military style, and it is also hard to say how long the Basel drummers have been using it. It appears in Berger’s 20th century rudiment lists, but is likely somewhat older.


The Swedish Kortruff is the last of the rudiments here to use the French RLLR sticking. The date when this was adopted in Sweden is unknown to me at this time.



The German version of this pattern is typically played RRRL and is called the Französischer Ruf, meaning French Ruff. The name is misleading because the French have no such ruff. The historical use of this type of ruff is difficult to substantiate, but it is mentioned from the 20th century. The same sticking is said to be used in Dutch drumming as well, but only very recently.



Pipe band drumming features a single stroked version of this ruff but also a paradiddle sticking version RLRR, simply called the 4 Stroke Ruff. Assigning this sticking only to Scotland is a bit misleading because pipe bands are popular in Australia, Canada, USA, India, and many other countries tied to the British Empire. When this sticking came into use is hard to say. No manuals with explicit rudimental instruction exist before the mid-20th century and drum settings were generally not written with sticking in the earliest books from the 1920s and 1930s. It could date from the 1830s-1850s, or could be a relatively new idea.

Sticking Unclear


Russian drumming has a long history of not indicating sticking, so it is hard to assign a definite Russian sticking to the 4 Stroke Ruff idea. Just one military drum book exists with sticking from the early 1900s, by Vasiliyev, and he recommends RLLR. No other manual weighs in and it is unclear whether Vasiliyev was even a trained drummer — some say he played trombone. Russian classical methods suggest several other stickings, RRLR/RLLR/LRLR, so perhaps anything goes in Russia. Forshlag iz Trek Not, or Grace Note Figure with 3 Notes, appear as far back as 1832. They probably existed earlier, since many of the beatings are specified in 1832 to be antiquated already.


Spanish publications also have a history of not indicating any sticking. The Rau is a ruff of any length, including 4 notes. Rau with 3 faster notes preceding a downbeat exist in Spanish repertoire as early as 1761 and appear to be a staple rudiment into the 1950s when Spanish drum books seemingly stopped being produced with Spanish rudiments in them.


With the 4 Stroke Ruff appearing early and often over a large geographic area and with a multitude of names and sticking forms, it is fairly safe to say that it is probably one of the most basal or foundational rudiments in drum history. Its failure to appear verbatim on major official rudiment lists in the USA is odd and possibly one of the greatest rudimental oversights of the past 100 years. The 4 Stroke Ruff appeared in at least 7 American snare methods in the 20 years immediately preceding the founding of NARD in 1933: Rominger 1932, military manual TM 2000-5 1928, Moeller 1925, Army Manual No. 6 1922, Gardner 1918 and 1919, and Safranek 1916. It would seem that every teacher of the era would have been aware of it, and only 3 books that I have seen in this same 20 year span do not feature it. One of these is the Noble and Cooley EZ Method, which only includes 10 rudiments. Another is the Ludwig Drum and Bugle Manual, which includes just 7 rudiments. The manuals that do include a 4 Stroke Ruff list between 19 and 34 rudiments in total, meaning the few that fail to teach it are also leaving out many other standard selections of the era, and are clearly not meant to be comprehensive methods.

After the foundation of NARD, but prior to the compilation of the PAS 40 (which largely happened around 1981), the 4 Stroke Ruff appeared in at least 14 books: Yoder 1935, Krupa 1938 and 1944, Rollinson 1934, Field Music Technical Manual 1940, Wilcoxon 1941 and 1944, Buggert 1941 and 1960, Ludwig 1942, Rich 1942, Reynolds 1943, Sturtze 1955, and Morello 1967. My collection becomes a bit thin between the 1960s and 1990s. These authors all would have known precisely what was included on the NARD 26 and chose to augment their books with up to 10 additional rudiments, including the 4 Stroke Ruff. Of course, there were also many, many books in this time period that did not teach the 4 Stroke Ruff, but the names on this list include some very heavy hitters. Charlie Wilcoxon, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Earl Sturtze, and Joe Morello are very hard to argue with. If you don’t agree with something they all have in common, especially when they come from both the rudimental/marching and jazz drum kit sides of drumming, you are probably just wrong.

I acknowledge that the Single Stroke 4 is very similar to the 4 Stroke Ruff, but I personally feel as though we would all be better served by either adding a grace note version to the common PAS sheet, or replacing it entirely with a clear 4 Stroke Ruff with grace notes, or perhaps just showing the non-grace-note version landing on a down beat instead of on “and” or the upbeat. Anything to indicate the classic ruff phrasing would be better. It would seem that 350 years of written Anglo-American history are on my side, but nobody asked me…