What we often call “Swiss rudimental drumming” is actually 2 separate traditions, as discussed in this previous article. Between the two traditions of Basler Trommeln and Tambour-Ordonnanz there are about 50 authentic Swiss rudiments, some of which have a couple of different rhythmic interpretations, depending on where in Switzerland they are being played. Unfortunately, most of the rudiments labeled “Swiss” in the United States are actually not from Switzerland, they are misattributed American Hybrids. This Swiss confusion is rampant and the vast majority of the actual Swiss rudiments have rarely, or never, made a prominent appearance in American playing.
Here in the USA, we have talked about using Swiss rudiments in drum corps and marching band circles since the 1930s when William F. Ludwig Sr. and Dr. Fritz R. Berger exchanged rudimental ideas. The actual playing of rudiments with a Swiss origin really took off in the late 1950s through the 1960s when Alfons Grieder, Berger’s best-known student, traveled around the country promoting the Basel drumming tradition. Jack Pratt and Earl Sturze were some of the first prominent American percussionists to adopt Swiss rudiments, publishing them in the 1950s. Pratt would later seemingly regret this decision. He founded the International Association of Traditional Drummers (IATD) in order to fight for the use of only “traditionally American” rudiments. I discussed this idea in my PAS vs NARD article.
By the 1970s, Swiss rudiments were a staple of drum corps repertoire. Articles and books concerning the corps style of snare drumming began including “Swiss rudiments” as a separate category from the usual NARD selections. The unfortunate reality is that many of the percussion arrangers of the 70s lumped any unfamiliar rudiment into the “Swiss” category. The Swiss label became a catch-all designation for odd or new rudimental patterns in the days before the term “Hybrid rudiment” was widely used. Most of these “Swiss” rudiments were not Swiss at all. For example, in 1972 Thomas P. Brown wrote an article in which the Diddly-Diddle, an antiquated name for the Single Dragadiddle, was listed along side other Swiss rudiments, despite his admission that the rudiment was invented by American drummer John Davidson. It wasn’t a NARD rudiment, so it was immediately classed as “Swiss.” This was not Brown’s only American rudiment to be lumped in with the Swiss rudiments and Brown was not alone in making this same mistake.
Examples of misattributed rudiments that are not actually Swiss include:
2 Stroke Ruff Paradiddle-diddle (Drag Paradiddle-diddle), 3 Stroke Ruff Paradiddle-diddle (4 Stroke Ruff Paradiddle-diddle), Inverted Flam Tap, Berger Lesson 25, Double Windmill, Diddly-diddle (Single Dragadiddle), Parafiddle (Para Flam-Flam), Alternated Cheese-Ka, Pataflaka, Alternated Pataflaka, Alternated Swiss Tap Drag, Flyz, Alternating Flyz, Four Note Swiss Army Triplet, Alternating Four Note Swiss Army Triplet, Alternating Swiss Army Triplet, Alternating Swiss Flam Drag, Cheese Drags, Cheese Flamacue Swiss, Cheese Swiss Double Paradiddle, Cheese Swiss Triple Paradiddle, Cheese-Ka, Crazy Harry, Didda-let, Puguda, Flam Puguda, Flamacue Swiss, Swiss Grinders, Inverted Swiss Grinders, Swiss Cheese, Swiss Double Paradiddle, Swiss Flam Drag Flam Tap, Swiss Kick, Swiss Pug, Swiss Tap Drag, Swiss Triple Paradiddle, Swiss Tu-Chada, Swissacue, Swissadiddle, Triple Flammed Swiss Army Triplets, and Triple Para Swiss Flam Drags.
To reiterate, the above are NOT Swiss rudiments. They are Hybrid rudiments with either “Swiss” arbitrarily in the name or rudiments that were lumped in with Swiss rudiments in books and articles for absolutely no apparent reason. These do not exist in either style of Swiss drumming. An extremely egregious example is the 3 Stroke Ruff Paradiddle-diddle, listed as “Swiss” by Jeff Donnelly in a 1978 article. It actually uses a 4 Stroke Ruff, the sticking is that of the the American 4 Stroke Ruff LRLR, and the Paradiddle-diddle is a very American rudiment. So, its name is wrong in the first place as it misidentifies the Ruff type, the sticking of a similar Ruff in Switzerland would be RLLR instead, and while the Swiss play Paradiddles, though rarely Paradiddle-diddles, they are clearly imported from the UK or USA and not an endemic Swiss pattern. Wrong on the ruff, wrong on the sticking, wrong on using a paradiddle-diddle. No offense to Jeff, but he missed pretty hard on that one. It just isn’t Swiss in any way. The one possible exception here is the Inverted Flam Tap, which exists as a Doublé in Switzerland, though Americans had been playing an Inverted Flam Tap rudiment under other names long before any Swiss rudiments made their way over from Europe. Its inclusion could sort of go either way.
Some examples of rudiments used in the USA that are actually Swiss include:
Swiss Army Triplet (Ordonnanz Triole), Single Flammed Mill (Schleppmühle), Flammed 5 Stroke (5er Ruf), Flammed 9 Stroke (9er Ruf), and Pataflafla (Bataflafla).
Of course, the Swiss also use Flams, Drags, Single and Double Drag Taps, various numbered rolls, etc., but it would be weird to call those “Swiss,” specifically, when we have been using them for centuries. A case could be made that most of the common rudiments are Swiss in origin, since it is widely held that the Swiss invented rudimental drumming as we know it, but that argument is sort of pedantic and not helpful.
If you find yourself discussing or reading about “Swiss rudiments,” make sure to take a second and assess a few things.
- If the rudiment has the word “Swiss” in the name, with the obvious exception of the Swiss Army Triplet, it probably isn’t Swiss.
- If it does not have a French or German name attached to it, with the exception of essentially any Flammed Roll or the Flammed Mill, it probably isn’t Swiss.
- If the rudiment includes a Cheese, Tu-chada, Chutuddah, Puguda, Herta, or other clearly American Hybrid feature, it definitely isn’t Swiss.
In other words, Swiss rudiments will usually include a French or German sounding name, like Batafla or Mühleradstreich, not include the word “Swiss,” and be built from classic rolls, flams, and drags rather than contemporary Hybrid components. If it passes these tests, there is some likelihood it is Swiss. If it fails, the chances are that a Swiss drummer wouldn’t recognize it. This does not mean that fake Swiss rudiments are bad or inherently unacceptable. Some of them are awesome Hybrid corps style patterns, just not from Switzerland.
If we as drummers can simply recognize that Swiss rudiments and Hybrid rudiments are entirely separate classifications it will be a step in the right direction. If we could then acknowledge that Swiss drumming is not a single style but two very different sounding idioms, that would be even better. Discussing the finer points of Basel drumming is actually way more interesting than slapping the term “Swiss” onto a random Hybrid and pretending to know about “Swiss rudiments.” Actually learning a few real Swiss rudiments or characteristic rhythms will probably make you a better drummer too. I suggest starting with my translation of Tambour-Ordonnanz 1917 for a truly authentic Swiss drumming experience and checking out my Encyclopedia Rudimentia for a list of 550+ Hybrid variations.