10 Essential Drum Rudiments
Getting your drum rudiments in order
Drum rudiments are essential for any drummer looking to develop and apply patterns. Rudiments are the foundation of playing drums, yet some players develop a stigma towards the practice of the 40 rudiments (the Percussive Arts Society took the ‘essential’ rudiment count from 26 to 40 in 1984) that are deemed essential. These form, if you will, the alphabet of techniques and patterns in modern percussion and drum set. If you haven’t already, take a look at Vic Firth’s 40 essential rudiment list.
Some of us instantly revert to the more palatable side of our instrument, e.g. playing songs or jamming. Which is what we’re here to do, right? Correct. However, it would be very difficult to achieve this without a fundamental set of rules – or a vocabulary – to apply. I don’t like the term ‘rules’ when referring to the creation of music and art, but we have to understand the rules in order to break them or, as I prefer to view it, innovate.
Learning the fundamentals is not without merit, but achieving a level of rudiment competency can be a daunting prospect. The secret to alleviating yourself this grief and hardship is breaking the list down into groups and making the learning process creative and musical. Technique cannot be ignored when playing rudiments. Technique also offers the key to understanding and playing rudiments. Once you have the ability to play even single strokes, double strokes, and multiple bounce rolls you have all the technique required to play any rudiment.
Let me explain; A double stroke roll, the most difficult of techniques to play consistently at speed, requires the application of a different motion as well as different muscle groups to that of a single stroke roll. But every paradiddle, flam and drag-based rudiment is just a combination or variation of the single and double stroke’s motion.
Also, to further aid your studying, it’s worth dividing the rudiments into the following categories: single stroke, double stroke, multiple bounce, diddle, flam and drag. In doing the above we are unlocking a far easier and direct approach of learning.
Rudiments are to be practiced, interpreted, developed, manipulated, extemporised and embellished. There are many variations in the application and learning of rudiments; you are limited only by your imagination. Here are a few ideas to help you apply rudiments in a more creative fashion, hopefully broadening your understanding and awareness in identifying and developing them on the drum set.
1. Single Stroke Roll: Range of Motion and accenting
It is essential to understand the motion and technique behind playing as briefly mentioned above, and this single stroke exercise will aid you in just that. These three exercises don’t vary in sound. Instead the player varies his or her playing position whilst maintaining a single stroke roll played from the wrist. They focus on the position of your hands and identify the drummer’s range of motion on the drum set.
Germanic position: When sat ready to play the drum direct your palms to the floor and the back of the hands to the ceiling. Your forearms point straight ahead, parallel to one another and to the floor. Maintaining this position while having the stick in your hands will angle the stick at 45 degrees, with the tips meeting in the centre of the drum. The shape should resemble a house, with the arms forming the walls and the sticks forming the roof. We call this ‘playing around the barrel’ as your arms don’t cross your body, creating a space big enough for a barrel. It is worth noting this position utilises the most muscles when playing from the wrist. More muscles, more power.
French position: In this position the drummer’s hand position is entirely different to that of Germanic. Thumbs are now directed to the ceiling, and the palms now face one another and are a lot closer together. This position will cause the sticks to be parallel to one another extending out from your body to the centre of the drum. To help you understand how the aforementioned positions relate to one another, try moving between the two with a simple turn of the wrists, something that commonly happens when moving between voices on the drum. This position utilises the least amount of muscles out of the three.
American position: This final position sits in between the Germanic and French. The sticks are at a narrower angle, between being parallel to one another at a 45 degree angle. Your palms should be turned downwards slightly so neither your thumb or the back of the hand are directed at the ceiling. This is a common position for a lot of drummers as it neither too wide or too narrow.
Examples of these playing styles can and should be researched. Dom Famularo’s book ‘Emotions and Motions’ explains the range of motion visually in great detail. Drummers differ greatly in their styles and positions so watching players is very important. Billy Cobham is an example of a drummer predominantly using the French position, achieving unbelievable speed from his fingers. Claus Hessler has a perfect understanding of hand technique and the positions mentioned above. He plays mostly in the American position, and can be seen in many videos explaining the technique. Questlove, from The Roots and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, often uses the French position playing from the wrist, something we see a lot of drummers do with their right hand when playing the ride cymbal or hi-hat.
Once you can play an even single stroke roll in the above three positions, then the application of accents should be practiced. The ability to accent notes is of great importance to a drummer and should never be neglected when one practices. Therefore, my second exercise to be practiced is that of the application of accents within a semi-quaver single stroke roll. A full breakdown and list of all the accent permutations can be seen in Mark Atkinson’s ‘The Unreel Drum Book’.
2. Double Stroke Roll: Achieving the ‘Open Roll’
The double stroke is often seen as the essential rudiment. I was lucky enough to be the student of the late, great Jim Chapin. With his book ‘Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer Vol. 1’ he revolutionised independence on the drum set and with his tuition of the Moeller technique taught and inspired thousands of drummers across the world. To achieve an even double stroke roll, follow his method which can be found on his instructional DVD ‘Speed, Power, Control & Endurance’ and on Drummerworld.com, in the video entitled ‘The Open Roll’ on the Jim Chapin’s page. The key to this roll is the ‘pull out’ used to achieve an accent on the second of the two notes played on each of the hands. This is different to the up-down motion commonly used to play accents in which an accented down-stroke is achieved by a preceding up-stroke, which generates the height required to play an accent. The pull-out is different in that you pull away on the second note to generate an accent. This is achieved with a slight squeeze or ‘snap’ of the fingers and bringing the stick up and away from the head. The first hit is no longer an up-stroke but a tap, and the second note becomes a ‘pull-out’ stroke. This is difficult to visualize and interpret through text so check out the video to master this technique. This exercise will take time and patience to develop, and forces you to use all the muscles in your arms from fingers up to shoulder in one fluid motion but, as I have discussed previously, the technique utilised in this roll enables you to play all other rudiments with greater ease.
3.The Single Paradiddle as quaver Triplets
Paradiddles are some of my favourite patterns to play on and around the drum set. The ‘diddle’ in the paradiddle is the latter half of the rudiment in which the right or left hand plays two consecutive notes – a double stroke roll. This occurs in all the variations of the paradiddle, and allows the drummer to free up the opposite hand and gives different creative options in the accenting and orchestration of rhythms around the drum set compared to that of a single stroke roll.
The exercise I have chosen to share highlights the separation of rhythm against rudiment. The single paradiddle is four notes in length so is instantly natural to play in duple time; note values that divide into twos and fours etc. To play a single paradiddle as quaver triplets requires both understanding of time, beats of the bar and a great deal of coordination. There are twelve quaver triplets in one bar of 4/4, which is three single paradiddles. Therefore play this exercise over two bars to complete an even number of paradiddles. Add an accent to the first not of each paradiddle and you will get a pulse equivalent to that of a Minim Triplet. Played against a crotchet metronome we hear a four over three polyrhythm happening. Replace the metronome with a crotchet played by your hi-hat foot and you create the same polyrhythm between your accented paradiddle and the hi-hat.
Once you can do the above comfortably, try this pattern with the three single paradiddle inversions. Note that any pattern or rudiment is applied to a rhythm and not tied to it. Explore all rudiments across all rhythms to develop your time and coordination. Further study of this concept can be found in David Stanoch’s book ‘Mastering the Tables of Time’.
4. Single paradiddle grooves
Playing a single paradiddle between your snare hand and you kick drum foot is great for coordination. Add to that hi-hats played with your other hand and dynamics and you can find yourself grooving along nicely. Rudiments can and do work within grooves with a bit of imagination and dynamics.
If we retain the elements of a groove, both a downbeat and backbeat, we can make just about anything groove. Playing a single paradiddle as semi-quavers between the hand and foot will automatically produce a kick drum on the common downbeat position of beats one and three, and your snare hand will fall on beats two and four, the common position of the back beat. Finally, lay down quaver hi-hats over the top of this and we have the elements of a drum beat. To make this groove, playing all but the snares that fall on beats two and four as ghost notes should be applied. This will give the pattern feel. It’s worth noting the ghost noted snares should be ‘felt’ as opposed to heard.
This paradiddle groove can be extremely funky and is accessible to players who are relatively new to playing drum set. Try playing all the single paradiddle inversions following the above rules and you’ll get nice variations in the kick drums and ghost note positions.
5. Flams pt. 1 – ‘Seeing’ the rudiment
This concept relates to the close resemblance a lot of the rudiments have to one another and helps you achieve the ability to apply the correct motion and technique, which is often the key to ‘unlocking’ any given rudiment.
I’ve mentioned single strokes, double strokes and multiple bounce rolls being fundamental techniques found in all rudiments. These techniques or motions extend to the application of rudiments in the flam family.
Let’s take the flam accent, which is hand to hand single strokes with an alternating flam every three notes. If you look closely you’ll see there is a double stroke hidden in the pattern. Further inspection leads to identification of the pattern being a single paradiddle. Flams are two notes that are overlapping or ‘collapsed’, a concept I will explain shortly. If you separate the two flams within the flam accent the order of notes is as follows: L R L R R L R L, which is a single paradiddle, in this case beginning from the final stroke of the left hand lead paradiddle.
In viewing the rudiment in this way we uncover the flam accent’s close resemblance to the single paradiddle, enabling us to apply the same techniques and instantly unlocking this rudiment. Another example is the ‘Swiss Army triplet’. This can be difficult to play at high tempos for the same people that can play proficient paradiddles and doubles. This occurs due to the player applying a counter-intuitive motion or technique. Separate the strokes in the Swiss Army triplet and the pattern will be as follows: L R R L, which is an inverted double stroke roll. We again ‘unlock’ the Swiss Army triplet, overlapping or ‘collapsed’ double strokes.
6. Flams pt. 2 – collapsed rolls
This term ‘collapsed’ is the process of taking two notes within a rudiment and bringing them together to create a flam, thus changing the rudiment and creating a new pattern or rhythm. This concept was created by the aforementioned Jim Chapin and enables the drummer to create endless new patterns as well as showing the similarities between existing rudiments.
The example I will show you is a ‘collapsed rudiment’ based on a paradiddle-diddle which is: R L R R L L. Take this pattern and flam the fourth and fifth notes (R + L). This reduces the ‘feel’ of notes to the length of that of a group of five. You can play this as duplets and triplets, or as a quintuplet or within any note grouping. I call this a collapsed paradiddle-fliddle.
A lot of rudiments become another existing rudiment once collapsed. This was talked about is part one of this exercise. A five-stroke roll is another example which can be collapsed to create another rudiment. Collapse the second and third note of each group of five in the five stroke roll and you create a single flammed mill.
For application of this concept listen closely to Vinnie Colaiuta’s playing. Claus Hessler can also be seen on YouTube explaining collapsed rolls. Finally, Jim’s limited notation on this subject can be obtained in poster form.
7. The triplet ratamacue
This is essential because, as well as another accessible study in rhythm and application, we have Steve Gadd to thank for squeezing this fill into a lot of hit tunes.
The ratamacue is a dragged-based rudiment. Once you have practiced this, the triplet ratamacue swaps the order of notes and makes each note a triplet, including the drag usually preceding beat one. So we have six evenly-spaced triplets. The ratamacue is an alternating pattern; take the pattern that begins with the right hand before the drag and replace that with a kick drum. Follow this with the rest of the ratamacue and you have the following: F L L R L R. Notice that your kick drum falls on each beat if played as a semi-quaver triplet rhythm.
Examples of this can be heard on songs such as Steely Dan’s ‘Aja’ and there are explanations on YouTube by Steve Gadd himself. This is a prime example of a rudiment being manipulated to create a musical and applicable fill in any genre.
8. Rudiments with the feet
The title says it all with this essential routine. You only have to look at drummers like George Kollias of Nile and Thomas Lang to witness players whose feet have as much, if not more, dexterity as their hands. Jojo Mayer has blown the lid off bass drum technique over the last few years, sharing techniques used by drummers like Tony Williams and Buddy Rich that didn’t have the technology in pedals we have today.
By practicing rudiments with your feet you will develop posture, core strength and proficiency in pedal work. Groove starts from the bottom up and your sound and feel will improve if your feet are developing along with your hands. I’ve practiced rudiments, both on a double pedal and between a hi-hat pedal and single pedal. I have also spent a lot of time practicing with no pedals, flat footed on the floor, playing from my ankle with no leg movement. This is a quick way to built strength which, although it proves strenuous, yields the fastest results. Another of my teachers, Dom Famularo, gave me the exercise of playing the whole of George Stone’s essential method book ‘Stick Control’ with my feet; playing through the same page every day for a week, before moving onto the next. Remember – use your imagination!
9. Rudiments over ostinatos
An ostinato is a continuously repetitive musical pattern. It is fundamental in a modern drum set to have the ability to play ostinatos between your feet whilst playing unrelated musical phrases with your hands. It is also the basis of musical genres such Afro-Cuban, from a drummer’s perspective.
Once you obtain proficiency in playing rudiments with your hands, playing them over foot ostinatos should be attempted. A good foot pattern to start with is the common samba foot pattern. This has hi-hat on beats two and four of the bar and bass drums on beats one and three, as well as on the ‘and’ of beats two and four.
To develop the interdependence to achieve musicality in your application of all rudiments over this foot ostinato at least is a necessity. I can’t stress its importance enough. It’s worth noting the importance of varying foot ostinatos too. These can be pulled out of thin air and created by you. Anything goes.
We hear the simple left foot ostinato on beats two and four in jazz. It is played with such consistency and power by drummers like Art Blakey, and in more complicated patterns by drummers in other genres like Danny Carey from Tool, for example.
10. Applying rudiments to simple, compound and odd time
This final exercise extends to drumming generally. Whether you’re working with rudiments or not, relaxed playing and feel in varying time signatures is important. Although an in-depth explanation into time signatures won’t be discussed here, I can quickly categorise the three time signature groups and reveal enough to get you started in achieving competency in any time signature.
Simple time: The main beat can be divided into two inner beats i.e. the time signature 3/4 is felt as three groups of two beats even though it amounts to three crotchets. The time signature 2/4 is felt as two groups of two beats.
Compound time: The main beat can be divided into three inner beats i.e. the time signature 6/8 is felt as two groups of three beats. The time signature 9/8 is felt as three groups of three beats.
Odd time: Each bar is a combination of the above groupings of inner beats, both twos and threes i.e. the time signature 7/8 is felt as two groups of two and one group of three. The order of these can change, but the amount cannot without changing the time signature itself. The time signature 11/8 can be felt as any combination of twos and threes as long as that amounts to eleven beats e.g. four groups of two followed by one group of three equals eleven beats.
Your ability to count throughout the application of rudiments in your chosen time signature will be crucial to remaining in it. Patience and slow practice are important guidelines to stick to at the beginning. Further research and listening into time signatures are recommended too. Playing to songs like Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ is a good place to start or, if you think you’re up to the challenge, I suggest trying Frank Zappa’s ‘Keep it Greasy’.
Once you are consistently applying rudiments in varying time signatures, move onto applying the foot ostinato rule in essential exercise eight. A fine example of this can be seen and heard by the Herlin Riley and by Joe Morello on Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’.