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What ARE Drum Rudiments?

Can you imagine a chat between God and the very first drummer?  With apologies to the great comedian Bill Cosby and his “Noah” routine, the conversation could have gone something like this:

God (in a large booming voice): Cave Man!
Cave Man: What? Somebody call? Who is that?
God: It’s God, Cave Man.
Cave Man:  ……Riiight!  What you want?  I’ve been good.
God: I want you to play a drum.
Cave Man: ……Riiight!  ……What’s a drum?
God: Hollow out a short log.  Kill and skin an animal.  Stretch the skin over one of the ends of the hollow log.  Then play the 40 drum rudiments by hitting the skin with 2 sticks.
Cave Man:   ……Riiight!  ……What’s a rudiment?

What IS a rudiment, anyway?

Drum rudiments are a series of standard sticking patterns (like mini-drum lessons) that were created over a long period of time to teach military drummers how to play certain drum beats.  They are similar to musical scales for other instruments in that they are practiced to learn technique, and they are used as the basis for creating songs and solo pieces of music.  They are NOT like scales, however, because drums only have one tone.

Drum rudiments were originally sticking patterns that were the building blocks for technical-style, military snare drumming.  There have been 26 recognized drum rudiments for close to 200 years.  The Percussive Arts Society reorganized the first 26 in the 1980’s and added another 14 to form the current 40 International Drum Rudiments.  They also put the rudiments into 4 major categories:

  1. Roll Rudiments – Single Stroke, Multiple Bounce and Double Stroke
  2. Diddle Rudiments – Combinations of single and double strokes.
  3. Flam Rudiments – Rudiments preceded by a single, lightly played note called a flam.
  4. Drag Rudiments – Rudiments preceded by two lightly played notes called a drag.

See “Grace Notes and Flams and Drags, Oh My!” for more information on flams and drags.

You could play the drum set your whole life without having to know anything about drum rudiments. But, like reading music, you will be a better drummer if you know how to play them. 

Rudiments are also very handy for communicating with other drummers. For example, I can say “I played sixteenth note paradiddles with my right stick on the bell of the cymbal and my left hand on the snare drum.” Someone who knows a paradiddle will know that I was playing the following sticking pattern: RLRR LRLL.

The traditional way to practice and play drum rudiments is on the snare drum only.  Rudiments are played by starting very slowly, gradually speeding up to top speed (as fast as you can play them without making a mistake) and then gradually slowing down to the original speed.

Over the years, however, drummers (being the creative humans that they are) have used rudiments in many different ways.  My personal favorite is to use drum rudiments as the basis for beats on the drum set.  I play variations of rudimental sticking patterns with my right hand on the ride cymbal or hi-hat, and my left hand on the snare drum.  I also use rudimental variations for playing fills around the drum set.

To learn rudiments, I recommend playing them on the snare drum to a metronome while keeping time with your feet.  By “keeping time” I mean playing quarter notes on the bass drum and playing the hi-hat on “2” and “4.”

In fact, I’ve written a guide for learning the 40 rudiments including the notes to play with your right and left feet.  You can download the Drum Rudiments Guide for free by clicking on the link.

Don’t worry about the 3’s above the notes (they’re called triplets), the crossed lines through the note stems (they’re rolls) and the greater than signs (>) above the notes (they’re accents).  We will go through each group of rudiments in up-coming sections.

Start by picking a simple rudiment like the single stroke roll.  Set your metronome to a slow speed such as 76 beats per minute (bpm).  Play the single stroke roll as sixteenth notes on the snare drum.  Play quarter notes on the bass drum and play the hi-hat on “2” and “4.”

Play this until you can play the notes evenly and at the same volume.  Now increase the bpm on the metronome and try playing the rudiment again at the faster tempo.  Keep repeating these steps until you are unable to play the rudiment comfortably.

Try this practice technique with each rudiment.  Then, if you ever hear the voice of God asking you to play rudiments on a drum, you’ll know what to do!