Rudimental Unknowns – Elusive Systems

I like to think I know a lot about rudimental drumming, but there are definitely some things I do not know.

My upcoming book Rudimental Grand Tour (Mel Bay, November 2022) contains rudiments and musical examples from 22 international traditions. This is already more than most drummers have ever heard of, but, amazingly, it does not contain every rudimental tradition to ever exist. There are quite a few more that proved especially elusive. It is clear that they existed, at least at some point in the past, because I have found references to them in infantry manuals and other historical sources. What I have not found is sufficient notation or rudimental instruction to develop even the most basic understanding of what these systems might have sounded like or what rudiments they used.

Militaries in both Europe and the Americas used military drumming for communication, troop movements, and camp duty signals before the advent of electric communications devices, such as radios and telephones. Major historical systems include the American, British, Scotch (pipe band), Swiss, and French. There are also a few civilian folk traditions that have clear and obvious military style rudimental drumming roots. These include Swiss Basel drumming associated with the Fastnacht festival, the drumming of the Carnivale de Ivrea in Italy, drumming for the religious marches of the Belgian l’Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse region, and Norwegian trommeslåtter. DCI and modern American collegiate and high school marching bands also sort of fit into this category since they are civilian traditions with no military connection, aside from the use of rudiments. There are also a number of lesser known or smaller military traditions that I was able to find good information about. Most of the military systems have named rudiments, specific signals, official marches, and either dedicated drum manuals or lots of good drumming information in their general infantry regulations. The above folk traditions also have civilian method books or song books from which to learn the drumming, or at least some treatment in academia that explains the musicology. Sometimes both.

In Europe, essentially every sovereign nation that existed prior to World War I used rudimental drumming at some point, but locating resources for notation and rudimental instruction can be difficult. Portugal is a good example of a colonial power with clear mention of rudimental drumming in history, but notation for the actual drum parts has proven impossible to locate, so far. I have seen a few scattered pieces of bugle repertoire, but nothing related to drumming. Other european folk traditions exist as well, besides those that made it into my book. The Spanish Bajo Aragón region has its own tradition of rudimental drumming that accompanies religious processions through the area. I know a bit about this Bajoaragonés style, but I learned about it from just a single online source and it was too late to make it into the book before I submitted the final draft to the publisher.

In the Americas the unknown countries actually outnumber the known. I’m aware of the drumming for the United States, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. Mentions of rudimental drumming have popped up for Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela. Whether these were all actually independent systems of drumming, or whether some were just using Spanish, Italian, or French drumming, or perhaps the drumming of a neighboring New World country, is unclear. What is clear is that the drumming existed. Infantry manuals mention not only the existence of drummers in military units, but also lists of drum signals are given. These are typically referred to as toques de tambor or sometimes toques de caja. Without clear notation or an explanation of the rudiments, it is impossible to accurately assess these systems. Of these unknown military styles in the Americas, the closest I have come is with Venezuelan drumming. A military manual exists with a few Venezuelan military marches in the back. Unfortunately, no rudiments are named or listed and no sticking is given in the music. A few basic rudiments could be extrapolated (flams, rolls, drags), but this does not constitute enough information to even begin to assess the system as a whole.

With 7 additional militaries and at least one more folk tradition, my book could have contained 30 rudimental styles. If I devoted some space to modern Hybrid drumming, which I left in the domain of Encyclopedia Rudimentia instead, it could even be 31 styles of drumming. As it is, I barely have any information on the Belgian, Danish, Swedish, Eporedian (Ivrea), Sicilian, Argentine, and Colombian systems that did make them book. Most of them are known from just a single source and I have just the most tenuous grasp on the basic ideas for them. Of course, with more information I would love to flesh them out more and add in some types of drumming that I missed.

If you haver any insider knowledge or books relating to the rudimental drumming in the following countries or regions, that you would be willing to share, please reach out to me.

Portugal, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela. Also Bajo Aragón, Sweden, Denmark/Norway, Belgium, Ivrea, Sicily, Argentina, and Colombia.

It is impossible to know everything about rudiments. There are still things about American drumming that I do not understand, even though it is my native drumming style. I have taken private lessons, worked through many books, and practiced for over 25 years. There are still questions I cannot answer and many solos I cannot play. In light of this, it is obvious that I will never fully understand some defunct military system from looking at a few books with questionable notation practices, written in a language I do not speak. I will still try though. My goal is to gather as much rudimental knowledge as is humanly possible, which could take a very long time…