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 had stumped me for a while — the Trau. 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 Sverre Kristensen’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 would 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. I have an example of a manual that does just that, though perhaps that manual is the outlier? Linckes already includes a normal Flam, so this Trau isn’t a Flam and still could be a Double Stop, but this rationale isn’t proof necessarily.

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 or Open Flam. Similarly, a Charge Stroke is called a Tran in Argentina, a Tau in Colombia, a Tarau in Spain, and a Talá in Sicily. In France Tra meant a Ruff. In Prussia Trau originally meant any quarter note, but more on that later. Most of these terms are all either identical or extremely similar to the Danish 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, 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 don’t think this is the best way to figure out the Danish Trau.

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 quarter notes 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 definitions 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) had indicated two notes. 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 or an Open 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 and places this figure in the same spot as the Trau in the “General Marsch” from Linckes. 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 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 intentional Open Flam. Since the sticking is sometimes given v/h, but at other times given as h/v, it would logically be much more likely that it is referring to a Charge Stroke than a Double Stop. There is no point in giving different stickings to a rudiment where both hands happen exactly together. The fact that there is both a right handed and left handed version points away from a Double Stop and toward some type of Charge Stroke.

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. Also, none of this Drypslag evidence corroborates Kristensen’s assertion that a Drau 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 — Drau is like a Drag.

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. Essentially, his opinion is 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 style at all.

Side Note: The Prussian Trau with 2 stems, pictured above, are often assumed to be normal Flams, though it is not clear. The explanation is vague, simply saying they were to be played with “both hands,” and gives no mention of timing. They could potentially be Double Stops, but that would leave the entire book with no normal Flams. That unusual, but I suppose possible. This is quite similar to the French Philidor collection from 1705. Susan Sandman Goetzel published a paper in which she called double-stemmed notes Retraite and not Fla or Flam. The assumption being that they were Double Stops. Most scholars disagree, because there are no normal Flams if that is the case. In later French player there are no other Double Stop rudiments. In later Prussian/German playing there are Double Stops, called Zusammenschlag. The assumption in both cases, the Prussian Trau and the French Retraite, is that no rudimental music would ever be played without normal Flams. Or, put another way, scholars generally think Double Stops are optional to a system but Flams are not. I am not entirely convinced this assumption is true, but that is a different article entirely.

Back on topic, I checked the 1963 Danish publication Øvelser for Marchtromme for more evidence and there is no named rudiment for a Drag, Charge Stroke, or Double Stop. Irritatingly, not one of the prime suspects is present by name to sort any of this mess out. Drags, and larger rudimental phrases containing Drags, are used in the music but there are no double-stem notes and no notes with legato lines. In other words, it was completely unhelpful for this discussion.

After all of this somewhat disappointing research, I decided to go back to the original source and directly ask Bjørn Sverre Kristensen how he had arrived at the idea that Trau was the same as Drau and that those two terms meant a Drag, or a double and a single. Kristensen replied to me with a wealth of information. He explained that a Drau is likely an older variant of the Norwegian word Dra, which means to pull, draw, or drag. In old Danish it would be Drag, probably similar to the modern Danish Træk or Drægge, meaning pull or dredge. This is, of course, a direct cognate of the word drag in modern English and corresponds directly to the Drag rudiment, a double and a single. This makes sense with what Niklas Jensen said, that a Drau would have multiple grace notes. Indeed, in modern Dutch the word Dreg is similar to Drag, as Jensen suggested, and could be where the term originated. It was perhaps even more similar to Drau in the past. This all lines up nicely for the Drau. This does not actually say anything about the word Trau.

The problem with relating Drau to Trau directly as a spelling variation is that in the 1800s and earlier Norwegians and Danes would have called the Drau or Drag rudiment a Ruff, just as some American and British manuals did. The Swedes also call it a Kortruff. Of course, there could have been both a Ruff and a Drag. The notation doesn’t seem to make sense for that interpretation, however. Kristensen was originally working from a paper published in 1957 by A.V. Arendrup and he mentioned that the second stem on the Trau was very hard to see and that he may have missed it entirely when writing his book 20 years ago. When I pointed out the double stem he immediately changed his position from what he published in his 2003 book! He now believes the Trau in Linckes is very clearly a Double Stop, just like the Austrian Doppelschlag, which agrees with my initial interpretation. Some of the longer Ruff variations (Heel Appel and Halv Appel) given in Linckes have Austrian counterparts as well (Ganze Ruf and Halbe Ruf), so it makes sense that the notation for the Danish Double Stop would also correspond with the Austrian version. There was likely a loose link between Austrian rudiments and Danish-Norwegian rudiments at this time.


Thanks to the reevaluation by Kristensen, I now believe that the Trau in Linckes is most likely a double stop, or both hands together. That was my immediate gut reaction, it aligns nicely with Austrian rudimental notation, and Kristensen now agrees. It also corresponds to how the Zusammenschlag is written in Prussian/German music and how De Dubbele Slagen is written in Dutch music, both of which are Double Stops. Kristensen also agrees with Jensen that the Drau is a Drag, which seems logical and I am inclined to agree with them.

This leaves only the Drypslag up for debate. It is probable that the mistake here is Victor Krohn’s postulation that the Drypslag is the same as the Drau. None of the four dictionary definitions of the Drypslag sound like they are describing a Drag and the notation in Krohn’s article does not look like a Drag. The association he makes between the two rudiments, which he admittedly makes cautiously, is very probably incorrect if the Drau is a Drag. Since 3 of the 5 descriptions of the Drypslag, including Krohn’s, mention 2 notes, and the legato note from the Fladstrands Tambourer “General March” uses two stickings, it is still possible that the Drypslag and the legato figure in the March are related. It would mean a probable departure from the way the corresponding stroke in the “General Marsch” from Linckes was played.

Other related questions still open: Are the double-stem Trau in the 1777 Prussian manual Flams or Double Stops? Why is it that the Trau/Tran/Tarau/Tau rudiments with similar names from other countries are all Charge Strokes and do not align with the Danish Trau? Why did the Drypslag definition change over time and what is it exactly? Why are there no named Drags, Ruffs, Double Stops, or Charge Strokes in the 1963 Danish manual? Did the French ever use Double Stops?

Many thanks to Kristensen, Jensen, Soldal, and Heßler for contributing to this investigation! If anyone reading this has more information or an opinion to add, I would be happy to hear it.