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, but are very similar in all other respects. See Examples 6, 7, & 8. Instead of a smooth set of grace notes, like the above Ruffs, the Flam to Drag combination 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 Flam preceding the downbeat with the sticking llrL or rrlR. The spacing here too is uneven with the Flam falling closer together than the Drag notes before it. In the standard format, several of these Drag/Flam 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