Cheese – A Common Hybrid

Anyone familiar with Corps-Style or Hybrid drumming has undoubtedly played a rudiment containing the Cheese. It is one of the most common ways to augment any rudimental pattern and create a new Hybrid rudiment and is therefore one of the first Hybrids any drummer should know. A Cheese is simply a double stroke preceded by a single grace note, sometimes referred to as a Flammed Drag. It could also be thought of as a Flam which has been augmented by doubling the primary note. Either way you envision it, you get the same answer. A Cheese can be applied to essentially any note of any rudiment to make it more interesting, and more challenging, and there are dozens (hundreds?) of rudiments that include a Cheese somewhere in them. Cheese-let, Cheese-ka, Chut-cheese, Cheese Paradiddle, Cheese Pataflafla, etc. The list is long, see my Encyclopedia Rudimentia for 540+ Hybrids, many of which have a Cheese component. Since the Cheese is such a popular rudimental device, it begs the question: where did it come from?

Cheese Predecessors

The oldest version of a rudiment involving a Flam onto a double stroke that I could find was the Pladada, which was, unsurprisingly, first used in Switzerland. It was probably invented a very long time ago, but its first recorded use was in 1728 in Verzeichnis derjenigen Ordonnanz-Streichen. It is still a formal rudiment in Swiss and Basel drumming today, under the name Dreierstreich. In Denmark-Norway there was a similar concept called a Slip-Ruff that was first documented in 1820. The Flammed Drag idea later showed up in French drumming, where it was first published in 1870 in Carnaud’s Ecole du Tambour as a Ra de 4 commençant par un coup double, which is a mouthful. It means a 4 stroke roll starting with a flam. The French have played this rudiment ever since, eventually adopting the much better name Flagada. The Dutch also have a rudiment like this, called Verweisselslag or Verwisselslag. It may have been present in the music in 1861, predating the French, but it is a bit hard to interpret the old style of notation. It is not given a name it this point. It definitely existed with a name by 1932, however, so we can go with that as a fallback position. Sometimes it appears to be more like a Swiss Army Triplet, which is actually just a slow Cheese anyway. It is worth noting, though perhaps not entirely relevant, that the Italians and Austrians both had versions of a Flammed 3 Stroke Ruff in the 19th century. Same sound, different sticking.

American Usage

Americans did not get in on the Flammed Drag idea until the middle of the 20th Century. It has been reported that perhaps the first American drummers to pick up the idea were the members of the Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps in the 1950s. One member, John Flowers, suggested that they were using a figure like this in 1954 in the form of Flammed Ruffadiddles. In his recollection, these were essentially what we would now call a Single Dragadiddle, but with a Flam on the downbeat. Basically a Cheese Paradiddle by another name. The idea for this rudimental structure is credited to Bernie Plum and John Dowlan, the drum instructors for the Air Force Corps at the time. They, in turn, said they had gotten the idea from “Swiss drumming.” The Basel style of Fritz Berger was introduced to American drummers not too long before this, and so it would have been understandable that a military drum corps would try to slide in a Swiss-sounding element to their playing. The civilian drum corps world picked up the Flammed Drag idea by the 1960s, according to Kevin Donka, and corps dubbed the idea either Flags (for Flammed Drags) or Drams (for Dragged Flams). This terminology would survive into the early 1980s when, allegedly, Tom Float named this pattern the Cheese by around 1983, according to John Schwartz. Though this is probably the worst possible name for this pattern, in terms of suggesting to the player what it is the resulting sound ought to be, it stuck. In 1991 there was a brief attempt combine the words Flammed Ruff into the name Fluff, but it did not catch on. The first actual book to publish the name Cheese may have been Edward Freytag’s Rudimental Cookbook in 1993, though this is not definitely confirmed. It has been called a Cheese, fairly unanimously, from the 1990s to the present.

Many thanks to Flowers, Donka, Schwartz, and several other drum teachers who helped me with their personal recollections of this rudiment through the decades. If you have a differing opinion on the origin of the Cheese, please let me know. I’ll be happy to add your perspective.