Rudimental Ramblings: What Are “Rudiments” Anyway?

January 19, 2010 8:28 am in Concert, Drumset, Marching by mark wessels

This is the first part of what will probably be many posts from me on the subject of rudiments.

Before I get started – I want to make it known that I do not claim to be an “expert on the rudiments”. I have written books that include rudiments, I’ve taught the rudiments to many students, and have always been a proponent of rudimental drumming. I’ve taught a top 12 DCI drumline and have judged at the top level for DCI and WGI. And I pitched Vic with the idea of creating a poster of the PAS rudiments, along with a website feature that includes video and audio playalongs (which, to date, we’ve printed and distributed well over 1/2 million to schools and students around the world).

Having said all that, I’ve always been a little uneasy about the concept that there should be an official list of “40 Essential Rudiments”.

When I was young, I was secure in the notion of an official list waaay back in the day when I was taught the N.A.R.D. “original 13″ and “standard 26″.  At the time, it seemed that most rudimental literature (solos) and drum corps drumming centered around that vocabulary. If you practiced your rudiments, then working up a Pratt or Markovich solo was fairly straightforward.

However, as drum corps and rudimental drumming evolved, the rudimental vocabulary began to expand dramatically.  A PAS committee was formed to update the list to include new “essential” rudiments. It was a valiant effort, but the notion of keeping a clear-cut list began (for me at least) to be out of step with reality. The vocabulary pipes have burst and we’re trying to run around with a bucket and a mop.

Couple that progression with my own experience here at VF and I’ve completely lost a grasp on the concept.  One minute, I’m hanging with “old-school” rudimental drummers who insist that the Standard 26 is all that we need.  The next, I’m filming amazing drumset players who have never practiced an essential rudiment in their lives.  I’ve had discussions on the subject with top level drumline instructors who say emphatically that there are really only 3 ‘rudiments’ (the single, double and flam) and accomplished concert artists who think that rudimental technique can (or will) ruin a relaxed approach to the instrument.

Clearly, the rudiments are a Rorschach ink-blot test for drummers and percussionists. Depending on your background and current perception, the “rudiments” can be anything you want them to be.

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THEN WHY DOES IT MATTER?

In my opinion, those who teach (both young percussion instructors and non-percussionist band directors) – and beginning students look to us for guidance. I take my role as both an author and here at Vic Firth seriously. On vf.com, we have about 30,000 unique viewers a day come to the site – and around 35,ooo unique visits each and every month to the rudiment feature page. I think what we tell them matters.

What should we be saying?  That these are the 40 Essential Rudiments – and you should know all of them? From the Single Stroke Roll to the Flammed Mill and Triple Ratamacue – they are ALL important???

Currently, I think each of us approach the rudiments from our own Rorschach test. What genre am I focused on – and are the rudiments necessary?

As a teacher, how can you know where a beginning student’s interests will take him or her? If you ignore the rudiments, are you going to hobble their future chance of success?

So, as a ‘proponent’ of the rudiments, I have to ask, “Is there a baseline of “Essential Rudiments” that EVERY drum/percussion student will benefit from?

If so, should a list of “rudiments” be defined based on the true dictionary term (a “basic principle or element” or “a fundamental skill”)? Or are we solid in our current way of thinking that a list should be representative of the “VOCABULARY”  of current rudimental drumming?

In my opinion, I think we should scrap the perceived notion that “The Rudiments” are a list of patterns because we’ll never come to any agreement on which ‘scales’ are important enough to include on the “Essential List”. For the Ancient Drum & Fife drummer, it’s the Standard 26. For the drumset player, it’s probably 6-8. For the drum corps/wgi drummer, it’s 128 (and growing everyday).

I propose that we should instead come up with - and heavily promote – a list of true RUDIMENTS – the basic elements, fundamental skills – that young drummers and teachers should use.  In doing so, I believe that we could get the rudiments to become universally accepted.

What do you think?

Go ahead, I’ve already girded my loins for the discussion.  :0)

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In my next post, I’ll discuss what I feel ARE the ‘essential rudiments’.