The Mystery of the Danish Trau

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that I am not an expert in Scandinavian rudimental drumming, but I have been studying Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish drumming lately, among 20+ other regional styles. In all of Scandinavian drumming there is one particular rudimental concept that has stumped me for a while now — the Trau. See a video about this mystery on my youtube channel. I will lay out what evidence I have found here. If you know any of this to be incorrect, or can advise me on what a Trau truly is, please contact me.

The Evidence:

In about 1820 Johan Linckes published a drum manual detailing the rudiments and signals of the Danish-Norwegian military that included a rudiment called Trau. The notation features a single quarter note with 2 stems from the same note head, one going upward and another going downward. There is no further explanation. This Trau appears in several signals, always as a quarter note, but the context doesn’t make it obvious what the player is intended to do when that double stemmed note appears. I first encountered the Linckes book as a facsimile inside another book, Bjørn Kistensen’s Militærtamburen of 2003. Kristensen ignores the spelling in the original text and refers to the rudiment as Drau instead. His description calls for playing essentially a Drag, “et dobbeltslag og et enkeltslag,” or a double stroke and a single stroke. I was immediately suspicious of this information because of the unexplained spelling change and the fact that Linckes includes an obvious Flam that is notated with a grace note in the normal manner. It seemed odd that a Flam would be written with a grace note, as it is today, but a Drag written without any grace notes, just a secondary stem.

The notation provided by Linckes and my distrust of Kristensen’s spelling initially led me to believe that the Trau could possibly be related to the Austrian Doppelschlag. In Austrian manuals from the 1850s and later the Doppelschlag is described as a double stop, both hands simultaneously, and is notated with 2 stems on the same note head, one up and one down. The note looks the same, which is promising, but the problem with this is theory is that Austrians did not typically mention a Doppelschlag in their manuals prior to the 1850s. At the time Linckes was writing, the Austrians would have considered that same double stemmed note to be a Schleppstreich, or normal Flam. Linckes already includes a normal Flam, so this doesn’t make much sense.

Simply looking at the name, and not the notation, brings up a different line of reasoning. Trau, or a word very similar to it, is used in several other rudimental traditions. In Italy a Trau is a Charge Stroke. Similarly, a Charge Stroke is a Tran in Argentina, a Tau in Colombia, a Tarau in Spain, and a Talá in Sicily. In France Tra meant a Charge Stroke or Ruff at different times. In Prussia Trau originally meant any quarter note, but more on that later. These terms are all either identical or extremely similar to Trau, so the assumption, by association, would be that a Trau in Denmark was also a Charge Stroke or a similar concept. A linguistically based assumption is usually poor for rudimental drumming as a whole, however. In the German language, for example, there are five words for Flam and the names Rucker and Halbe Ruf have two separate contrasting definitions each, depending on the region or country in which they are used. With this much variation in a single language, equating terms over multiple languages and in different countries is tenuous at best.

I ran the Trau past a Norwegian drummer named Åsmund Soldal, who is a fairly accomplished trommeslåtter player. Trommeslåtter is a Norwegian folk drumming style that is explicitly based on Norwegian military drumming. Norwegian drumming was the same thing as Danish drumming for several centuries due to the two countries being politically united. Åsmund was unsure of the answer but managed to find an article for me by Victor Krohn from a 1937 Danish naval periodical. Krohn mentioned the Drau, note the spelling with the D, and equated it to the Drypslag. This was entirely unenlightening because I had never run across the term Drypslag before.

Now the question was: what is a Drypslag? Krohn notated the Drau, and by extension the Drypslag, in his article as a quarter note with a legato line over the note head, which is different than the Trau in Linckes. He shows two of them in succession, but no further explanation is given. After some searching, I found the Drypslag defined in four dictionaries. Hans Fisker’s 1843 Fransk-dansk Sø-Ordbog described it as an “enkelt slag paa trommen,” or single stroke on the drum. Peter Andreas Clausen’s 1875 Norsk-engelsk Sø-Ordbog agreed with this, calling it “one beat of the drum.” C.F. Scheller’s 1913 Marine-ordbog, fransk-dansk og dansk-fransk defined it as “korte slag paa trommen,” or short strokes on the drum, which is a slight departure from the others with plural strokes. The 1921 Ordbog over det Dankse Sprog is more specific, calling it “to smaa, korte slag paa trommen,” or two small, short strokes on the drum. This is a bit disconcerting since the same word is defined as both a single stroke and as two strokes. The definition appears to change over time, since the 19th century definitions agree with one another and the 20th century definitions agree with one another, but the four do not all agree across the centuries. In 1937, when Krohn equated the two terms Drau and Drypslag, the most recent 1921 definition (that I can find) indicated two notes and Krohn wrote the Drau out with two quarter notes, seemingly in agreement.

Drypslag is, apparently, a nebulous term and Krohn’s assumption that the terms Drypslag and Drau are even related is not a definitive statement on the subject. Krohn’s exact wording is, “»Drypslag« ikke synes at være kendt indenfor musikalske Kredse, ud over at man mener, at det maa svare til: »Drau«.” This translates to: “Drypslag” does not seem to be known within musical circles, except that it is believed that it must correspond to: “Drau.” He is clearly not certain that Drypslag and Drau are related, it is simply “believed” that they they “must be” for reasons that are not elaborated on in the article. This uncertainty from Krohn and the clashing dictionary definitions did not inspire confidence in this line of inquiry.

Since the issue was still unresolved, I decided to look into some actual Danish military music to see if I could find another instance of the Trau, Drau, or Drypslag. The only related occurrence I have yet found is in the “Generalmarch,” as written out by the modern Danish military reenactment group Fladstrands Tambourer 1717. Their version of the piece corresponds very closely to the British and American versions of the signal “The General” and on the final downbeat of each phrase, where American or British drummers would invariably play a Flam, the Fladstrands Tambourer have indicated a note with a legato line above the head. This is extremely similar to Krohn’s notation of the Drau or Drypslag. It is not a Flam as in the American or British versions, though, because elsewhere in the piece there are normal Flams written with grace notes, as one would expect. The assumed Drau or Drypslag notes have a corresponding sticking, “h/v” or “v/h” The h stands for the right hand and the v stands for the left hand, just as R and L would indicate right and left in English, so we must assume that this note requires both hands. The exact technique is unclear, however, and I am unable to find a recording of this arrangement. For reference, the sticking on the normal Flams is written as “vh,” with no slash, further reinforcing that these are different techniques. The other non-Flam options for this assumed Drau or Drypslag logically include a double stop or a charge stroke — either both hands at the same time or an intentionally very open flam. These are the same two contrasting choices that I had previously thought of based on the notation or the name, though this is inconclusive. I would assume that since the sticking is presented both v/h and h/v that it would be more like a Charge Stroke and less like a Double Stop.

Whether this legato note with two hands (at some unknown spacing) is the same as the Trau that I was originally looking for is completely unknown. None of the above evidence definitively connects the Trau to the Drau, other than the fact that they rhyme, nor does any of the above evidence connect the double stemmed note to the legato note. There must be some logical leap made to get from the Trau to any of these other rudiments and none of this Drypslag evidence corroborates Kristensen’s assertion that a Trau is like a Drag.

To continue the investigation, I contacted Niklas Jensen, a former Danish Royal Navy drummer. He was happy to provide an explanation to the best of his knowledge, but he, like Krohn, was unsure of the answer and provided no citations or evidence. He stated, “I believe the Terms Drau or Trau would come from belgian (Flemish) or dutch. And be related to “drags” in a more specified way… I do believe are drags notated with 2 or 3 grace notes.” This aligns pretty well with Kristensen’s assessment, like a Drag, but it is far from definitive proof.

Still confused, I got an email from Åsmund. He had continued his own investigation after we last discussed the issue and had asked Claus Heßler for his opinion on the matter. Claus is a respected teacher of both American and Basel style rudimental drumming and is a bit of a rudimental history buff as well, having written Camp Duty Update. His opinion is, “Regarding the „trau“: I would think it is just an expression that was taken/copied from a 1777 German publication which is quite well known [Kurze Anweisung zum Trommel-Spiel]. The (anonymous) author uses trau, lau and rau to indicate quarter notes, 8th notes and (roll related) 16th notes … The three words also do not relate to a certain phrase/rudiment … Also I think the French Tra is not related to that discussion.” In other words, he is saying 3 things: 1) he thinks they got the name from the Prussians, 2) the name Trau in German is not indicative of any rudiment, just a quarter note, and 3) he does not think that the French Tra is related. By extension we might assume he thinks that the Italian, Sicilian, Argentine, Colombian, and Spanish terms are also unrelated. In other words, his opinion is essentially that the name Trau does not mean anything in particular about the technique for the rudiment indicated in Linckes. He did not weigh in on the notation at all, which has double stems in some cases, possibly indicating a Flam or Double Stop independent of the name Trau.

Conclusion So Far:

This leaves us in a very unsatisfactory place. If we believe Kristensen and Vestman, the Trau is the same as the Drau and is at least three notes like a Drag or 4 Stroke Ruff. If we believe Krohn, the Drau is the same as the Drypslag and is one or two notes depending on the definition of a Drypslag. If we believe the Fladstrands Tambourer 1717, the notation provided by Krohn, with a legato line, means two notes and is possibly a Double Stop or a Charge Stroke. If we look at the name Trau only, it suggests a Charge Stroke by comparison to several other systems of drumming. If we believe Heßler, the name is inconsequential. If we look at the notation only it sort of suggests a Double Stop by comparison to Austrian drumming. In the end, the Trau, Drau, and Drypslag could all be related, or could be up to three separate rudiments, and those rudiments could be one, two, three, or four notes long at some unknown rhythmic spacing.

This is a terrible place to be. I have no definitive answer. If I had to guess, I would postulate that the Trau, Drau, and Drypslag are NOT all the exact same rudiment. IF they are all related, then certainly the definition has evolved over time, probably gaining notes through the centuries. The Drypslag (first mentioned in 1779) seems to go from one note to two in the sources over time and the modern Danish and Norwegians (21st century) think a Drau should be at least three notes. The Trau then (indicated in 1820), seems to be located temporally in the one note range, since multiple notes aren’t mentioned for any rudiment here until 1913 and three notes aren’t mentioned until 2003. This doesn’t particularly prove anything. IF they are not all related, then a lot of this research is unhelpful, in that the definition of a Drypslag may not inform the technique for a Trau at all. Perhaps the Drau and Trau are related, because they sound the same, but the Drypslag is not and maybe Krohn was wrong. Perhaps the Drau and Drypslag are related, and maybe Krohn was right, but the Trau is not so Kristensen is wrong. From the sources and evidence above, I have no way of truly knowing. I have been unable to find any source from between 1937 and 2003 that mentions any of these rudiments. I do have a book of Danish military drumming from the 1960s, and it does not contain any of these. I have several books and papers on Norwegian trommeslåtter and none of them seem to mention any of these either. I also have multiple sources of information about Swedish or Swedish-Norwegian drumming and they also fail to mention any of these terms.

Help me if you can, please. I am currently stuck. I will update this page if more information comes to light.