Basel Drumming vs. Swiss Drumming

No, They are NOT the Same Thing.

It is a common misconception in the United States, and probably other countries as well, that Swiss drumming and Basel drumming are synonymous terms. Most rudimental drummers discussing “Swiss rudiments” make no effort to specify which version of rudimental drumming from Switzerland they are referencing, likely because they are unaware that there is more than one. Below I will try to rectify the issue and separate the two types of drumming. Check out the video version of this info.

The two types of rudimental drumming endemic to Switzerland are: Basler Trommeln, or Basel Drumming, and Tambour-Ordonnanz, or Military Drumming, which literally translates to “organized drumming.” These drumming styles share rudimental terminology and have some similarities, but they have enough differences to consider them completely separate art forms. These differences manifest themselves in the the regions in which they are used, number and type of rudiments used, the rhythmic interpretation of the rudiments, the repertoire played, and the historical notation styles.

The best (only) English-language resource for the lesser-known Swiss military style is my translation of Tambour-Ordonnanz 1917, which outlines the World War I practices of the Swiss infantry drummers. There are a few English-language books or other resources available on the Basel style, including books or articles by Fritz Berger, Alfons Grieder, Claus Heßler, Ben Dijkgraaf, and Allen Benson. I suggest picking up a copy of my translation and any of the Basel resources to compare for yourself.

Regional Use:

As the name suggests, Basel drumming comes from the region around the city of Basel, Switzerland, sometimes also spelled Basle. It is primarily associated with the celebration of the Fastnacht festival. Military style drumming is common around most of the rest of the country, including Zürich, Geneva, and Wallais. Though not functionally used in the military any longer, there are military style ensembles that continue to play in a traditional Swiss rudimental manner.


Basel drumming uses up to 49 different rudiments while Swiss military drumming uses only about 32 over its entire history, and typically a much smaller subset in any given historical era. All of the military rudiments exist in some form in Basel repertoire, but there are many Basel rudiments that never appear in military usage. There are about 8 rudiments in the military system that are commonly referred to as Basel Grundlagen and are thought of as being borrowed from the Basel style and not native to the military repertoire.


Basel drumming is often (though not exclusively) played using a rhythmic interpretation that has been referred to as the “Basel Swing.” It has no relation to jazz swing except that players disregard the written rhythms and insert their own patterns in a similar way to how jazz drummers ignore straight 8th notes in favor of shuffled triplets. Typically, this Basel swing manifests itself as quintuplets with a beat (or two) missing instead of straight evenly spaced 16th notes or triplets. The notes become slightly bunched up with seemingly unintuitive (to outsiders) gaps in the spacing. The military style plays most rhythms as-written with no special interpretation.


Basel drumming is primarily a civilian style, though it has military roots, and the pieces are virtuosic and relevant to the Fastnacht festival setting. Military drumming has a more subdued set of battle signals, camp duty calls, and marches that pertain to military movements. There is virtually no overlap in the standard pieces played between the styles.


Both types of Swiss drumming started out using syllabic or onomatopoetic phrases in lieu of notation. First only verbally, and then later written out. Both styles eventually switched to symbolic notation, but took very different paths. Until the 1920s, Basel drumming was written in a series of several so-called “heiroglyphic” codes. These are unintelligible gibberish to an untrained outsider, using numbers, lines, dots, and other elements to indicate the rudiments. Each version has its own symbols, but none feature any normal musical notes. Military drumming, in contrast, has used standard musical symbols (the usual notes and rests on a staff with logical rhythmic application) for around 250 years. There have been different styles of percussion notation used over that time, but they can all be understood with regular musical training. After the 1920s, Basel drummers converted to a style of nation based on what the military was using at the time. It was modified slightly by Dr. Fritz Berger to include some of the “swing,” though it is still hard to coax the actual rhythms out of the Berger notation. Today the two notation styles have largely converged into very similar looking application of standard musical symbols, and they are both quite similar to the notation used in pipe bands. Sometimes Basel drumming is still written in heiroglyphics or in a Berger style that obviously contrasts with the military and pipe band style, though this is becoming more rare.

Yes, two distinct types.

Based on the notation, repertoire, rhythmic interpretation, rudiments, and regional usage, it should now be unquestionably clear that Swiss drumming is not a single unified monolithic drumming culture. Basel drumming and Swiss military drumming are, in fact, completely different drumming idioms. When discussing “Swiss drumming” or “Swiss rudiments” a distinction should really be made. Its either Basel or Swiss military, “swung” or straight, virtuosic or utilitarian, and, after reading this, you are now equipped to stop contributing to the undue conflation of terms and help dig us all out of the mess that is generic “Swiss” monikers and descriptions in rudimental drumming.