Drags and Ruffs – Shifting Rudimental Terminology

January 2019

Notation Examples

There has always been a slight amount of confusion when discussing drags and ruffs. At some points in history the two terms are interchangeable and at others they are entirely separate rudiments. Here we will take a look at several of the most confusing and antiquated naming conventions for ruffs and drags to sort out which is which and when.

If you learned to play after 1984, you probably learned that 2 grace notes preceding a full note is called a Drag and is played with the sticking LLR (Ex. 1) because this is how it is officially listed in the PAS 40 International Drum Rudiments. You’ll also likely recognize that the same double grace note pattern played with singles strokes, RLR is called a 3 Stroke Ruff (Ex. 2). There is no Ruff on the rudiment sheet, but the pattern is commonly referenced and widely known. This is pretty cut and dry, unless you learned to play sometime prior to 1984, or had a teacher who did. Confusingly, on the NARD Standard 26 American Drum Rudiments sheet the LLR sticking for this pattern is called The Ruff (Ex. 3) in direct contradiction of the PAS sheet.

So, is Ruff the correct name? Well, not exactly. In 1644 Thomas Fischer gives a very vague indication of a Full Ruff and a Half Ruff, but with no sticking. The 17th Century Douce Manuscript mentioned a Full Ruffe (5 Stroke Roll) and a Half Ruffe, but again no mention of sticking for the Half Ruffe. In 1780, the Dragg appears in the British book Young Drummer’s Assistant with the normal double stroke sticking that we would recognize as a Drag today. In 1812 Charles Ashworth called the LLR sticking a Half Drag (Ex. 4). In this terminology, a Full Drag was a Half Drag plus another tap (Ex. 5), similar to the modern Single Drag Tap (ex. 6). It could also be called the Drag and Stroke and it is similar to a Basel Tagwacht. In 1817, Samuel Potter calls this figure The Drag in Britain, and in America Rumrille and Holton call it the Half Dragg.

George Klinehanse lists a Ruff and a Half Drag in 1853 in the USA, but his Ruff is a single stroked Ruff, or a 3 Stroke Ruff. Tamplini c. 1860 in the UK mentions both the Close Drag and the Open Drag, both with normal double stroke sticking, which would become fairly standard for British books after this point. In 1861, Cooper lists the 3 Stroke Ruff and the Drag, with different stickings and Howe mentions The Ruff and The Drag with the same double stroke sticking.

Bruce and Emmett in 1862 (and echoed by Moeller in 1925) indicate both a Ruff and a Drag and the implication seems to be that the Ruff is closed (Ex. 7) and the Drag is open. This is also in line with the French concept of a Ruff, often written with a trill symbol, rather than 3 individual notes. In some French publications, much like the British, there are both open and closed version of Ruffs or Drags. The French sometimes list both a Ra de Trois (Roll of Three) and a Tra, which can be assumed to be a closed Ruff.

In the USA, Sousa (1887), Smith (1897), Safranek (1916), Manual TM2000-5 (1928), Manual TM20-250 (1940), and a Reynolds (1943) list both an Open Drag and a Close Drag — like the British. These must, of course, be different rudiments or there is no point in listing both.

One last thing about Drags, if you can have a Single Drag, there must be a Double Drag (Ex. 8), which is essentially the same as a Double Drag Tap (Ex. 9), and is similar to the Basel Double Tagwacht and the French Coup De La Diane.

In summary, a modern Ruff is a 3 Stroke Ruff, or a Single Stroke Drag, while a historical Ruff is the same as a Drag, except for when it is a buzzed orchestral Ruff or Rough. A Drag, of course, is the same as a Half Drag because if it were a Full Drag or Single Drag it would be a Drag Tap. This leaves us with the obvious: that a Double Drag is just a Double Drag Tap.