Rudimental Articles

Rudiments: Geography, History, and Evolution

Rudiments are typically just accepted exactly as taught, without much question. The current standard selections are encompassed in the PAS 40 International Snare Drum Rudiments list. What many drummers do not know is that rudiments are ancient and there are many more than just the 40. For a list of almost all known rudiments (850+) be sure to check out my book Encyclopedia Rudimentia, published by Hudson Music. The following articles or essays should help illuminate a few small facets of the massive, yet understudied, topic of historical and international rudimental drumming.

NARD 26 vs PAS 40 – August 2019

For many years now there has been tension in the drumming community over just how many standard educational rudiments there ought to be. The Percussive Arts Society (PAS) says 40 but the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (NARD) says only 26. The 14 extra rudiments in the PAS list have been contentious ever since their publication in 1984, with many drummers lashing out against them or just ignoring them entirely for the past 35 years. I have heard debates over the need for more than 26, just weeks ago in 2019, between older and younger members of the percussion community. Some American rudimental purists, such as Jack Pratt’s International Association of Traditional Drummers (IATD), have denounced the additional PAS 14 for their perceived Swiss influence and departure from “traditional” drumming. The IATD rhetoric is surprisingly nationalist toward American rudiments for an organization with “International” in the name. It is hard to argue with a titan like Pratt, but I’m going to make an attempt to undermine two prevailing falsehoods about at least 6 of the 14 PAS additions — One being that they are predominantly Swiss and therefore definitely not American, and the other being that they are not “traditional” to American ancient fife and drum and therefore a departure from the true nature of the art form. The other 8 are a little bit harder to rationalize as being “traditional” for ancient military drumming, but even some of those make a lot of sense.

First, a bit of history is necessary. The NARD 26 rudiments of 1933 are precisely Gardner Strube’s 25 Lessons from his 1870 Drum and Fife Instructor, albeit in a different order, with the lone addition of the Single Stroke Roll. Strube is not the originator of the Lesson 25 rudiment as a pattern, but his lack of any actual name for the rudiment in his 25th lesson spot is, ironically, how we name the rudiment today. Prior to Strube, American rudimental manuals had featured anywhere from 13 to 40 rudiments. Some had been as simple as Ashworth’s Not So Quick while others were fairly elaborate, like Hart’s Open Double and Single Flam Drag Beat. Strube’s list was of a moderate length (almost exactly in the middle of the range between 13 and 40) and of middling complexity; presenting mostly rudiments that were well accepted and present in previous manuals. The exception is the Drag Paradiddle #2, which he lists for the first time in American history, at least as far as I can tell (if it had been listed before it was at least fairly obscure).

Strube’s manual was published just a few years after the end of the Civil War and may have been seen by the creators of the NARD 26, who were, and are, very well respected figures in drumming history, as a good representation of the average of many Civil War era publications. Sanford Moeller said in his book that he believed the Civil War to be the high point of ancient drumming in America and it seems as though NARD agreed. I have looked at 5 distinctly different military manuals published between 1861 and 1864 for context. Keach, Burditt, and Cassidy prescribed rudiments sparingly in 1861, using just 18 in their book. Contrastingly, H. C. Hart recommended 40 the very next year in 1862’s New and Improved Instructor for the Drum. Elias Howe took the shotgun approach in 1861’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor by prescribing 21 of his own rudiment selections, then quoting the 22 from Alvan Robinson’s 1818 book Martial Musick, and further reprinting Kinehanse’s 1853 list of 30 from The Manual of Instruction for Drummers. Though it sounds like there were 73 rudiments in total, many of them actually overlapped. On a side note, Kinehanse’s rudiments are obviously only a slight variation on Ashworth’s 1812 rudiments and Howe calls them the “old English style” and further the “old style used in 1812,” which sounds like a subtle nod to Ashworth’s clear inspiration for Klinehanse’s list. Other publications during the war included Bruce and Emmitt’s Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide, regarded by modern fife and drum corps as not particularly authentic for real-world practices, and Nevins’s Army Regulations for Fife, Drum, and Bugle, which mirrored Ashworth’s and Klinehanse’s rudiments reasonably closely.

In comparison to the crazy naming conventions of Hart, the scattered collections of Howe, the antiquated Nevins, the minimalism of Keach et al. and the perceived unreliability of Bruce and Emmitt, Strube’s book looks very uniform, authoritative, and concise. Given the benefit of hindsight and the lack of a raging Civil War, it ought to have looked that way, and a case can be made that NARD made a reasonable choice in selecting Strube as the prototypical rudimental guide. Reasonable, yes, but not perfect by any means. Strube discards many older rudiments that had been standard, traditional American fare. Some of those exercises in the discard pile come back to the fold with the 1984 PAS list.

The PAS 40 rudiments were compiled in 1984 and they retain all 26 NARD selections while adding 14 additional rudiments deemed worthy of study. The 14 additions, realistically, can be split into 2 large categories – those that were present in American military rudimental drumming before 1870, and those that were invented or popularized later. There happen to be 6 and 8 in each category respectively and those that existed in the ancient American idiom before Strube must be considered at least as “traditional” as the 25 Lessons. The question of Swiss influence is then a matter of relative degrees. Almost all the rudiments used in America in the 18th and 19th centuries were based on Swiss or French antecedents, filtered through the British military tradition. I propose that any rudiment that has existed in American military publications for more than 150 years is sufficiently removed from the Swiss origins to be considered endemic. I believe that the most often cited “Swiss” rudiments of the PAS 40 fit nicely into this endemic definition.

The pre-1870 PAS additional rudiments include: Single Stroke 4, Single Stroke 7, 6 Stroke Roll, Pataflafla, Swiss Army Triplet, and Inverted Flam Tap. The last 3 are the most commonly cited as being too foreign for American drummers, but perhaps only because of the names that the PAS committee used for them. The Swiss Army Triplet, the obvious candidate for the most Swiss addition, appears in American manuals starting at least as far back as Robinson’s 1818 book. He calls it Flam And A Two, but the sticking and rhythm are the same as a Swiss Army Triplet. The Pataflafla has a very French sounding name, and may be the next candidate for most foreign addition, however Robinson, publishing from Massachusetts, also lists a Flam A Two And One Flam in that same 1818 book. Clearly, that descriptive title (and the notation) matches up precisely with the concept of the modern Pataflafla. The Swiss Tap Flam is typically blamed as the foreign inspiration for the Inverted Flam Tap, but American author Charles Stewart Ashworth published the identical Flam and Stroke in A New Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating in 1812 and many later American manuals continued to do so. To round out the other rudiments on this list: the Single Stroke 4 is just a non-appoggiatura version of the 4 Stroke Ruff, appearing as far back as the late 1700s in America, the Single Stroke 7 comes up in Hart’s 1862 book, though called the Triple Compound Drag Beat at the time, and the 6 Stroke roll dates back to at least 1817 with Rumrille and Holton’s Drummer’s Instructor or Martial Musician.

The post-1870 PAS additional rudiments are: Multiple Bounce Roll, Triple Stroke Roll, 17 Stroke Roll, Triple Paradiddle, Single Paradiddle-Diddle, Single Flammed Mill, Flam Drag, and Single Dragadiddle. These can further be split into groups – the logical extensions, the hybrids, and other. The logical extensions are Triple Paradiddle, Single Paradiddle-Diddle, and Triple Stroke Roll. These simply take a concept from the 26 and push it slightly farther, or remove a flam in the case of the Paradiddle-Diddle. The hybrid group contains the Flam Drag, the Flammed Mill, and the Dragaddle. These are clearly just combinations of other rudiments, though the Flammed Mill, to Pratt’s credit, is pretty clearly Swiss. In the other category are the 17 Stroke Roll (probably lifted from the British or Swiss as both had 17 Strokes in their repertoire) and the Multiple Bounce Roll (a staple of orchestral playing since time immemorial). DCI drum corps had been developing a hybrid system for several years by 1984, and putting a few simple hybrids into the PAS 40 surely made sense at the time. These 8 rudiments can easily be considered not “traditional” in the narrow view of the IATD, in that they were created or popularized in America after the NARD 26 was codified, or in the case of the Multiple Bounce Roll, not typically used in purely rudimental playing.

The fact that the PAS 40 added 14 rudiments to a system that had been in place for 51 years, which in turn was based off a set of rudiments from 63 years before that, sounds sacrilegious when you phrase it as an upheaval of a 114 year old institution. On the other hand, I think most of the criticism is unwarranted. Let us not forget that Strube invented that Drag Paradiddle #2 out of the blue in 1869 or so (as far as I can tell) and Bruce and/or H.C. Hart should probably be credited with the idea for the Flamacue in 1862. Neither of these had precedent before the Civil War and very well could be seen as less “traditional” than many of the others.

Even the most nationalistic of American rudimental purists should give at least the PAS 32 a chance (26 plus the 6 with American historical roots older than Strube.) Accusations of Swiss influence and lack of precedence in the ancient canon are clearly unfounded for these particular patterns. Without these thin claims, there is really no reason to discount them as useful and helpful tools in the drummer’s toolbox. As for the other 8, I am not married to the exact choices of the PAS committee, however an argument can be made for almost all of them to be used by modern drummers and percussionists as a learning tool. It is hard to dispute the ubiquitous nature of the Multiple Bounce Roll in school concert bands as well as professional orchestras. The 17 Stroke Roll was used by All-American drum teacher Charles Wilcoxon as far back as 1941’s Modern Rudimental Swing Solos and thus has a healthy history in American playing. Personally, I could see the Triple Paradiddle being replaced with the older sticking pattern of the Treble Paradiddle (RLLRRLRR), but I think most drummers would disagree that this would be significantly more appropriate for the standard list.

Perhaps there is a pedagogically perfect set of rudiments, which teaches the necessary basic strokes of drumming most effectively while also introducing rhythms and idioms commonly found in literature. I don’t think that any known collection of rudiments from any time period can claim that level of perfection yet. Most drummers can agree that rudiments are a useful tool and that they have a historical record of success in drumming education. Rather than squabbling over which rudiment is more traditional or more American, or what list is closest to perfect, it is certainly a better approach all rudiments and rudimental systems with an open mind. I have never known anyone to have studied rudiments too well, too long, or too hard. 26, 40, or 900, any number ought to be considered valuable to the student and the master alike.

In short, the biggest sticklers and pedants about traditional rudimental drumming should have a hard time discounting 32 of the 40, however, the concept of traditionally American rudiments is silly and an unnecessary and counterproductive argument in terms of modern drum set or marching band playing. All rudiments are useful, including the suspicious 8 at the end of the 40, and nearly every rudiment is ultimately derived from a European system at some level. Anything you practice systematically should make you a better drummer, while squabbling over the number and derivation of practice patterns will not.

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. From the time of Charles Ashworth in 1812, through the Civil War, to just before Gardener Strube’s 25 Rudiments in 1870, the LLR sticking was called a Half Drag, sometimes with an accent (Ex. 4). In this terminology, a Full Drag or Single 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. Of course, in most orchestral interpretations the grace notes would be buzzed for any of these notation figures, which brings us back around to Ruffs. In the 1800s and early 1900s, a Ruff (sometimes spelled Rough) was played in the buzzed orchestral manner, as evidenced by Bruce and Emmett in 1862 (Ex. 7) and echoed by Moeller in 1925. This is also in line with the French concept of a Ruff, often written with a trill symbol, rather than 3 individual notes. 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.

4 Stroke Ruffs and Other Oddities – September 2020

Most drummers have heard of the 4 Stroke Ruff, at least in passing, though it does not exist in its standard grace note form on either the PAS 40 rudiments or the NARD 26. I do not know why this is. It can frequently be observed on concert and orchestral snare drum parts and the basic pattern has made rudimental appearances in American repertoire, as well as the rudimental traditions of at least 5 other national traditions. Above, in the previous article, I discuss the many variations in naming and execution of the drag/ruff/3 stroke ruff. This will be a similar discussion, but addressing figures with 3 grace notes instead of just 2.  The notation for the rudiments will appear below the text.  

The PAS 40 does include the Single Stroke 4, which is a similar set of 4 single strokes (as the name implies), however it is written without the use of grace notes, such that you begin the pattern on the downbeat. The main difference with the 4 Stroke Ruff is that it ends on the downbeat with the 3 preceding notes written as grace notes in the space before the beat. See Example 1, American 4 Stroke Ruff. In both American rudimental and American concert/orchestral interpretation the Single Stroke 4 pattern is used for the grace note ruff version as well. Most American teachers teach only this interpretation, however it is not always the easiest to play or the best sounding in all contexts. Here I’ll go through at least 4 other regionally codified ways to play the same basic pattern, plus 4 more rudiments that are distinctly not 4 Stroke Ruffs, but do feature 3 grace notes. 

The Scotch version of the same grace note figure is played with the sticking rlrR or lrlL. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that this is Paradiddle sticking, but in a grace note context. See Example 2, Scotch 4 Stroke Ruff.

The German version of the same notation is called the Französischer Ruf, which translates to French Ruff. Interestingly, there is no French rudiment that directly corresponds to this sticking, making the name fairly nonsensical. Germans use the sticking rrrL or lllR which is shared exactly with the Dutch version of this pattern, called the Voorslag van Drie, or Stroke of 3. See Example 3, German Französischer Ruf or Dutch Voorslag van Drie. I personally always found this sticking to be intuitive because it is a triple stroke variation on the normal Drag/Half Drag. 

The Basel version of this notation is called the Half Ruff and corresponds to the French rudiment Ras de Trois. These both use the sticking pattern lrrL or rllR. See Example 4, Basel Half Ruff or French Ras de Trois.

This final version is also Scotch in origin, but I did not include it with the other scotch 4 Stroke Ruff because it is slightly more specific. Instead of only referring to the 4 notes of the ruff itself, the Triple Birle embeds a ruff-like feature inside of a group of 16th notes using the sticking llrL or rrlR. This sticking is basically a Drag Tap/Single Drag compressed into a 4 Stroke Ruff’s space. See Example 5a, Scotch Triple Birle. On the surface this doesn’t look like a ruff, but the intent is similar. Though it would not usually be notated this way, you can see a ruff-based interpretation of the figure in Example 5b, Triple Birle Ruff Interpretation. 

Although the following rudiments are certainly not the same as 4 Stroke Ruffs, they do feature the same underlying components, 3 grace notes and a downbeat. The grace notes are played in a non-uniform phrasing, making them quite unusual compared to standard American rudimental practice, though a few can be compared roughly to the Hybrid rudiment Cheese. 

The Dutch Verweisselslagen, the Basel Dreierstreich, and the French Fla-ga-da share a similar timing and sticking lrrL or rllR and are essentially a Drag with a Flam tacked onto the front. They differ in the accent pattern, and slightly in timing, but are very similar in all other respects. See Examples 6, 7, & 8. The Verweisselsagen is unaccented and falls usually into a 16th note grid. The Fla-ga-da is similar but the 2nd and 3rd grace note are accented, with an unaccented downbeat. The Dreierstreich actually conforms more closely to a quintuplet grid, and is thus more compressed than the other two variations. Instead of a smooth set of grace notes, like the above Ruffs, the Flam to Drag combination in all of these examples produces and uneven spacing with the first and second grace notes falling closer together than the second and third. These are basically the Hybrid Cheese sticking, but with 3 grace notes instead of 1 grace noted onto a doubled downbeat. 

The final strange 3 grace note rudiment here is an inversion of the previous pattern. The French rudiment Coup Roulés features a Drag onto a Charge Stroke (open flam with an accented grace note) preceding the downbeat with the sticking llrL or rrlR. In the standard format, several of these Drag/Charge combinations are played in succession to form a larger phrase and are often not notated as grace notes. In Example 9a, French Coup Roulés, the usual presentation is given with a grace note alternative shown in Example 9b, Coup Roulés Ruff Interpretation. 

These 9 distinct rudiments are not all interchangeable for 4 Stroke Ruffs but, given leeway with sticking, the first 5 evenly phrased variations could be applied in any 4 Stroke Ruff situation. In concert settings I’ll play different stickings based on the tempo and surrounding rhythms to make the pattern easier, rather than purely sticking to the American standard. I have been told that I am weird for doing this, but sometimes I feel like a triple stroke “French Ruff” and sometimes I feel better using a Basel Half Ruff and if you work on a few of these variations, perhaps you will too. The sound is what matters, not the esoteric sticking. However you get there, you’re right somewhere in the world.  This video discusses may of these variations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJAcgu08WRQ and, of course, MANY more rudiments and variations can be found in my book Encyclopedia Rudimentia

How Many Rudiments? – March 2021

For centuries the drum and percussion community has been plagued by the ultimately irrelevant but persistent question: How many rudiments ought there be? The easy answer is that it doesn’t matter, but argumentative drummers have difficulty letting go sometimes. Myself included. I come down heavily on the side of learning as many rudiments as possible, as evidenced by my Encyclopedia Rudimentia with its 850+ patterns and variations. Some drummers are diametrically opposed to this and would rather learn the minimum number possible to function, perhaps 3 or 5 at the most. I have addressed the differences between the NARD 26 and the PAS 40 already in another piece on the website, but generally these are the most commonly argued numbers. Either 26 is enough and 40 is too many, or 40 is enough and 26 is too few. Rather than argue philosophically or abstractly about which sheet is best or how many rudiments one ultimately needs, I thought I would take a different approach here and think about how many actually get published in Anglo-American sources. 

For this exploration I tallied up the number of rudiments that appear in 27 different British and American rudimental publications from 1778 up through 1984. Included in the list are the PAS and NARD sheets, Ashworth, Bruce and Emmett, Strube, Moeller, Sousa, and many other legendary names. Over the 224 years span, the rudiment lists range from a mere 9 rudimental entries in Adjutant-General Cooper’s manual to the familiar 40 rudiments at the high end. Both the modern PAS sheet and Colonel Hart’s 1862 book reach this figure. Despite the high end of the American lists being 40, there are some common rudiments that American still use that are not on the PAS sheet, the 3 stroke ruff is a good example, but not many more than 40. It seems that the “right amount” is probably lower than 40 and more than 9 — but how many?

 Both the mean and median number of rudiments listed in across the centuries happen to be 24. Just for fun, I also took the geometric mean and it came out to about 23. Since these numbers are all extremely similar, I think it is safe to say that most British and American rudimental authors over a 224 year span would agree, on average, to a list featuring about 24 rudimental selections. This is interestingly close to the NARD 26, but still fewer. Of course, I’m not going to try to decree which of the hallowed 26 are superfluous, just that most drum publications seem to get away with about 2 fewer on average. 

Mathematically, 24 sounds cut and dry. Done and done. Unfortunately, the flaw in this math is that the total number of American and British rudiments, by my count, is 79. Even though 40 seems excessively high, compared to the average above, any set of 40 is only about 50% of the total number of rudiments that appear in Anglo-American sources over the 224 year span. Our perfect calculated average of 24 rudiments then only represents a conservative 30% of the total pool of rudiments used in Britain and America. What sounded reasonable by the math looks a bit anemic in this context.

Another flaw in the logic is that America and Britain are not the only rudimental cultures on earth. Perhaps the Anglo-American rudimental philosophy isn’t typical. To get a better handle on what’s reasonable in a global sense, let’s try another exercise. Instead of looking at individual publications, we can compare entire regional or national traditions. For this exploration I tallied the total number of rudiments in each of 19 distinct rudimental systems from Europe and the Americas over the entire span of their publication history, up to 700 years, or at least as much of it as I could find. The numbers ranged from a tiny 6 named rudiments in the Bavarian system to a whopping 76 in the American system (I split American from British in this calculation). The mean number of rudiments used in any given rudimental system is about 25 while the median number of listed rudiments is only 13. The geometric mean comes in around 17 and the mode (which I’ve never used for anything since about 5th grade math class) is 11. The discrepancy in different mathematical averages stems from the fact that just a few big systems use about 10 times more named rudiments over their history than the smallest systems. There are 12 distinct traditions that feature 15 rudiments or fewer in the entirety of their rudimental playing over time. There are just 3 that use more than 70: Scotland, France, and America. 

Intriguingly, the mean for entire systems, 25, and our previous perfect average for individual Anglo-American publications, 24, are almost identical. Results appear to be confirmed. Problem solved. It is common, in fact, to have an entire drumming tradition based on fewer than 24 rudiments, but the 6 of Bavaria is misleadingly low. Bavarian music uses more than 6 popular rudimental patterns, they just don’t name some of them. It is also the case that no system ever uses more than about 50 rudiments at any one point in history. As noted above, 11 is actually the most common repeated number of rudiments across many systems. To sum it up, mathematically, the NARD 26 appears to be pretty close to the historical and international sweet spot in terms of pure average number of patterns. Well done, NARD founders. 

The next question, however, is which rudiments are the perfect set of 24 or 25? Most drummers will likely argue the NARD set is already perfect, and thus I’ll leave the argument there — for now. I will reiterate that I am a proponent of learning as much as possible and not limiting knowledge or skills to a canonical set of any rudiments. This has just been a fun, and mostly meaningless, exercise in low-level, unrigorous statistics. The important thing is to remember to have fun and play actual music.

The 16 Most Common International Drum Rudiments – June 2021

Above, I calculated, in theory, how many rudiments were the optimum number for a rudimental system. This was mathematical, but not necessarily practical or realistic. Looking at which rudiments actually appear most often throughout the world’s rudimental cultures should be a better gauge of which rudiments and how many are important on a global scale. I analyzed the rudiments from 22 national or regional systems, plus the modern hybrid system, to see which patters occurred in the largest number of different systems. Some rudiments, like the single stroke roll, long roll, and flam, appear in all (or nearly all) of the systems. Some other rudiments are specific to a given culture and appear only in one place. Still others appear in several areas of the world, though they are not ubiquitous. The assumption I am making here is that the most useful rudiments will be the most common across differing cultures.

Included below are rudiments that appear in at least 7 traditions, or about 30% of the possible systems (sometimes many more than that). Expanding the list further to get to, say, the ideal 24 or 25 rudiments would have meant including rudiments that actually appear in very few systems. Similarly, sticking with only patterns that appeared in a larger percentage of systems resulted in a list that was humorously short. This is arbitrary, but seems like a good balance between how common the rudiments really are, and how long the resulting list is. The rudiments are listed by their American names, with an accompanying selection of their names in other languages. Several rhythmic or sticking interpretations are included for each, where applicable.

Of course, rudiment sheets are not always that interesting, so I have taken the liberty of writing “Another Wilcoxon 73” in which the structure and essence of “Solo No. 73” from All American Drummer has been retained, but all the rudiments have been replaced exclusively with selections from the “Most Common International Rudiments” sheet. For example, the sheet has no 13 stroke roll, so the new solo uses 11 stroke rolls whenever a 13 stroke appears in the original. The original solo, in turn, has no charge strokes, so I have added a couple in for extra flavor. I continued in this way until all the rudiments in the solo were on the sheet and all the rudiments on the sheet were in the solo. Enjoy.