Lesser-Known Facts About Common Rudiments

September 2021

Here are a few very familiar rudiments, found on the PAS 40 sheet, with some facts about their names or origins that may not be quite so familiar. Why do we call the Lesson 25 the Lesson 25? Is the Swiss Army Triplet actually Swiss? Why doesn’t the name Flamacue make sense? How is Ratamacue actually pronounced? These and more questions are answered below. I may add more rudiments to this list in the future.

Lesson 25: The name comes from a book called Drum and Fife Instructor by Gardiner Strube in 1869. He listed 25 “lessons” or rudiments, and the last lesson was what we still call Lesson 25. He did not invent it. Strube appears to have either not known the name or forgotten to include it. It has been variously named the Quick Scotch, Three and a Two, Accent #3, or Ratatap. The pattern itself dates back as an explicit rudimental entity to 1810. The”Scotch Reveille” signal, from which it was derived, is even older than that… so drummers had been playing the rudiment for at least 60 years, under other names, before it picked up the number 25. Our modern name is literally the absence of a name for a pattern that already had several options out there. 

Pataflafla: The name is onomatopoetic and of French origin, where it first appears in the 1860s. It is sometimes written in France as Cataflafla and later in Basel Switzerland as Bataflafla. Same thing. By the late 19th century it had picked up the Pataflafla spelling in France.  Americans were using what we now call Pataflafla as far back as 1818 when Alvan Robinson called it the Flam a Two and One Flam. Elias Howe also uses that name in 1862. The problem here is that these early versions (and the standard American notation pictured below) are actually not the same as a French or Basel Pata/Bata/Cata – flafla. Pataflafla is literally tap-tap-flam-flam. Our flam-tap-tap-flam is a Flapatafla under the French syllabic system. They’re slightly different rudiments. The American pattern and the French name were only actually merged together into one idea in the latter half of the 20th century, and only in American-style playing. So, essentially, this rudiment has the wrong name. It is extremely similar to a Pataflafla but is actually an American Flam a Two and One Flam, not a French Pataflafla. Even if you allow for some variation, and assume these are the same rudiment, the American name came first — or at least was published first.

Ratamacue: The name is onomatopoetic, but it only works if you roll the R. rrrratamaCUE. They’ve existed in America since about 1778 when they were mentioned in Baron von Steuben’s regulations and also appear in a contemporary American drummer’s manuscript of rudiments and tunes from Valley Forge. Americans did not make them up, they probably came from Britain, as did most of our early rudiments. They get mentioned again by Isaac Day in 1797, who would have obviously been born before or during the Revolution, and in Ashworth in 1812, who was born in England and already knew how to drum before joining the US Marines. At that time they were called Rotamacues with an O… meaning the proper pronunciation is likely ROT like to decay and not RAT like the rodent, no matter how you spell it. There is an equivalent rudiment in Switzerland called the Zitterstreich but there’s no record of it any time near as old as the American version. Most people assume Swiss rudiments are always the oldest, but here that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Double Ratamacue is probably roughly contemporaneous with the Single, BUT the Triple Ratamacue doesn’t make an appearance in published literature until the Civil War. Its a much newer idea.

Flamacue: This is one of just a handful of rudiments actually invented in America, rather than imported from Switzerland, France, or Britain. It was first published by Bruce and Emmett in 1862 under the name Flamamacue — probably intentionally crafted to sound like the older Ratamacue. Flamamacue, with the extra syllable, is actually a much better name. Here’s why: The image below shows how Flamacues can be stacked in succession with 4 notes per iteration (this is taken directly from the official NARD “Green Book” so, yes, this is an extremely valid Flamacue interpretation). Flamamacue has 4 syllables. The measure pictured works perfectly when described with the syllables FlaMAmacue FlaMAmacue. Flamacue is only 3 syllables, so it doesn’t fit the notation. The syllables don’t line up in any way to this, or to the way it is listed on rudiment sheets. Why do we only have 3 syllables in our modern Flamacue? Gardiner Strube. His rudiment list in 1869, the one where he forgot to include an actual name for Lesson 25, left out the extra syllable on the Flamamacue and we have just rolled with that erroneously curtailed name, Flamacue, for the past 152 years.

Swiss Army Triplet: Amazingly, for once, the name is about as accurate as it can get. The original Swiss Amy Triplet was likely the Ordonnanz Triole, which very roughly translates to “military triplet” in Swiss German. It was in use in Europe since at least the early 19th century, if not earlier, but only made an appearance in American playing in the mid-to-late late 20th century, when it was imported from the Basel drumming style of Fritz Berger and Alfons Grieder, and popularized as an alternative sticking to the Flam Accent by the drum corps community. It really had no precedent in American drumming until quite recently. Despite the sticking listed in the image, with a left hand lead option, in Switzerland it is essentially never played from the left. It’s a one-way pattern, RRL. 

Paradiddle: As with many others, the name is onamatopoetic in the style of ancient French naming standards — “para” being single strokes (like the “pata” in Pataflafla) and “diddle” being a double stroke. The pattern is actually thought to be of British origin, not French, and has been a staple of British style drumming since at least the 1600s. It has been alternatively spelled “Padadiddle” and “Paradidle” in the past. It entered American playing in the 1770s and is one of our oldest patterns on this side of the pond. The original Paradiddle was typically played with 2 accents (PARAdiddle) as opposed to our modern accenting pattern of (PAradiddle). From its inception until about 1862 there was no single accented Paradiddle. From the Civil War through WWII our modern single-accent was commonly referred to as the Stroke Paradiddle, with the double accent being simply called the Paradiddle. Many sources in the late 19th and early 20th century list both as separate rudiments. It has only been since the 1940s and later than the single-accented Paradiddle has been universally accepted as the “real” Paradiddle and the double accent essentially forgotten. In France the same pattern is a Moulin and in Switzerland it is a Mühle, though both seem to have been imported from British or American playing and have only been used fairly recently. 

Drag and Ruff: The Drag is notated on the PAS 40 sheet in the same manner as the The Ruff from the NARD sheet, leading many to believe these are the same rudiment. The story is a bit more complicated. The idea of a rudiment with 2 grace notes preceding the downbeat is extremely ancient and appears throughout the rudimental world. In English it was variously spelled Ruff, Ruffe, or Rough from the 16th century, with the name Drag, or Dragg, only occurring from the late 18th century. In France the same pattern is called a Ra de Trois (Roll of 3) or a Tra. By 1831 both terms were listed separately as distinct rudiments in France. By the 1860s British sources listed an Open Drag and a Closed Drag separately and American sources listed a Ruff and a Half Drag separately. (A Half Drag refers to what we would now call a Drag and is called such to differentiate from the Single Drag, which we would now call a Drag Tap.) The reason for all the names is that the Ruff and the Drag are NOT the same rudiment. The Ruff corresponds to the French Tra and the British Closed Drag while the Drag, or Half Drag, corresponds to the French Ra de Trois and the British Open Drag. In practical terms the difference is small, but noticeable. The NARD sheet uses the term Ruff and fittingly the NARD Green Book has many solo instances where a very closed execution is required for the notes to fit into the given space, such as occurring between two successive 16th notes, where the double stroke must be played as 64th notes or faster. The Drag on the PAS sheet occurs in many successive rudiments (#32-40) and in every case there is enough room to play the double stroke as 32nd notes. This half speed interpretation supports the idea that a Ruff is closed and a Drag is open and they are not the same rudiment at all.