Rudimental Ramblings 2: Basic Strokes

February 16, 2010 1:12 pm in Concert, Drumset, Marching by mark wessels

In the first part of this series, I talked about my philosophy behind the rudiments. Specifically, about the fact that I believe our current list of “rudiments” are not in fact “rudiments” – but RUDIMENTAL VOCABULARY.

For me, Rudiments should be defined as “the essential strokes that are the foundation to drumming”. To reach any type of universal acceptance, the Rudiments should be easy to understand and define – and should apply across ALL genres of drumming – not just rudimental drumming.

In this article, I’ll spell out the basic strokes I feel should be “Standard” or “Essential” (again, I’m not pretending to be the “source of all knowledge” – but just wanting to open up the discussion).

The difficult part with defining the “Essential Strokes” is to come up with descriptions that do not pigeon-hole the stroke styles into one genre or another. Using heights or trying to define the velocity or pressure (or lack thereof) in a stroke will obviously push the style into a category. I think by leaving the description a little vague, it allows the individual teacher to define for the student based on the genre.

So, here are my personal “6 Essential Rudiments” – or “6 Basic Strokes”

Stroke #1: Full Stroke (Loud Stroke, Piston Stroke, Rebound Stroke)

Description: Start High / End High
Starting with the stick in the upright position, strike the drum with a quick down/up motion. In most types of drumming, this motion is performed primarily with the wrist, but some arm motion can be incorporated as well (depending on volume or style). When playing rapid full height strokes in succession, the path of the stick should be fluid throughout, with no stopping points between the strokes. Where possible, allow the rebound of the stick off the surface to help propel the motion of the hand. In a case of high volume or slow tempo, the forearm may be incorporated to add weight to the stroke. At faster tempos, the fingers can be incorporated (or substituted) to “dribble” the stick – resulting in higher speeds with less effort.

Stroke #2: Tap Stroke (Soft Stroke, Ghost Note)

Description: Start Low / End Low
Same as full height stroke, but lower (softer). This motion is performed primarily with the wrist. At faster tempos, the fingers can be incorporated (or substituted).

A few observations:

This one is becoming difficult for me to logically separate as a unique stroke. Really, a tap stroke is the same as a full height / rebound stroke, but at a softer volume level. At what point does the full stroke become a tap? Half height and lower?  If you play  ”Rebound Strokes” and gradually decrescendo, the only difference in the technique is that the amount of rebound changes as you go lower, therefore demanding more control (unless you’re playing on a non-rebounding surface such as a floor tom or keyboard).

But I guess for the sake of argument, stroke styles should be presented as simply as possible – and full height / tap height is very easy to define (depending on your style or genre, you can define that as high or low as you like). The importance of two heights being defined is for the player to learn control of loud and soft volume levels.  Any comments or arguments?

Stroke #3: Down Stroke (Controlled Stroke)

Description: Start High / End Low
Play a stroke from the full height position and stop the stick in the low position immediately AFTER the stick hits the head with a gentle cushioning of the back fingers. Avoid extraneous tension by squeezing the stick unnecessarily.

My Observations:

This stroke style is often taught incorrectly (with an inappropriate amount of tension) – and therefore gives all “rudimental drumming” styles a bad rap (which is probably a reason that the rudiments are ignored by a wide population of drumset players & concert percussionists).

Depending on the genre, the downstroke can be taught with almost no control (resulting in high taps between the accents), as well as in a marching style – it all depends on how low you stop the stick after it hits the surface (and the amount of rebound the surface provides). Personally, I think that all students should be able to control downstrokes at all levels – whether it’s keeping the taps at 3″ or letting them relax to 6″ (which many marching percussionists can’t do, believe it or not).

Over the years, I have heard arguments that the downstroke should be eliminated – because it introduces tension — and students should learn to play without tension. To me, eliminating the downstroke as a basic stroke would eliminate the ability to control the stick on ANY type of accent pattern.  If the student plays with tension, it’s a direct reflection on the amount of pressure he/she is putting on the stick at the point of impact (and the height at which he/she is able to stop the stick).

In other words, I think if you learn the downstroke correctly (according to the style you’re playing), you can limit the amount of tension you create in the hand, but you’re never going to totally eliminate it… that’s just the nature of the beast.

Stroke #4: Upstroke

Description: Start Low / End High
Starting low to the drum, the wrist initiates a tap stroke and immediately lifts the stick to the full height position.

My Observations:

I describe this stroke as being similar to a “check mark”.

The importance of the upstroke – and style in which it is taught – is also often ignored, even by experienced teachers. No other stroke defines the motion and style of playing as much as the upstroke. (I have another post here on whether to use Moeller when teaching young band students – but I believe teaching the Moeller motion is essential to developing a relaxed flow between 2 height patterns).

Again, the style of the upstroke (Moeller or ‘stick led’ motion) is ultimately going to depend on the teacher and the genre. Ultimately, students should learn both in my opinion – but in the beginning, you’ll pick one or the other based on the genre (Moeller for drumset, stick-led for marching band).

HERE’S A COMBINATION “DOWN – TAP – UP” EXERCISE (though you can also isolate the motions of the downstroke and upstroke):

Stroke #5: Multiple Bounce Stroke

Description: One Motion = Multiple Strokes
In one motion, strike the drum and add a slight amount of pressure in the fulcrum to push the stick into the head, causing it to bounce. The amount of pressure applied will determine the space between the bounces: Too little pressure and the stick will not bounce – too much and it will result in multiple strokes that are too close together. The goal is to produce a long sustained multiple bounce (buzz sound) AND to be able to adjust the pressure to be able to play a relaxed double bounce (one motion = two stokes).

I think that many will find it interesting (or disagree) with my opinion that multiple bounces and double bounces are essentially the same basic stroke. I’ve always taught the multiple bounce (and multiple bounce roll) early – and later refined the stroke to produce double bounces for open rolls (by changing the amount of pressure on the stick). I know that the best way to get quality open rolls is to work diligently on speed and relaxation of double strokes – but for me, the essential stroke of double strokes and double bounces is different (good players are just able to transition the techniques from one to the other – but that takes a few years of training).

Stroke #6: Inverted Stroke (Whip Stroke)

Description: One Motion = Two Strokes (low/high)
Starting in a low position, the wrist breaks up and the stick strikes the drum as the forearm moves towards the full height position (called the “Moeller motion”). At the top of the stroke, the forearm begins its decent with the hand and stick following (in a whipping motion). The initial soft stroke happens AS A RESULT of the motion of the wrist and forearm – not as a separate tap/lift motion. In a fast tempo, the fingers can be incorporated (or substituted) to create a quick ‘snapping motion’ for the soft/loud stroke – as in a double bounce with the fingers producing a stronger 2nd note.

I used to never teach this as a basic stroke because I always believed it to be two strokes (upstroke followed by a downstroke). However, in most Moeller playing – and in the case of finger controlled double strokes where the 2nd note is stronger than the first – it really is ONE MOTION, not two. Certain rudimental vocabulary requires this skill (flamacue, inverted flam taps, patafla-fla, etc) – and working on the faster finger motion can increase the quality of open rolls.

Any agreements or disagreements?  Separate stroke style or just a modified technique of quick up/down strokes?


Any others?

One stroke I’ve been arguing with myself on including in the “essential” list is what I call the “CONTROLLED STROKE” – basically it’s the technique that’s used when a full stroke (accent) is followed by one or more soft notes.  This technique is used when playing Swiss Army Triplets, Flam Taps or Flammed Mills (with very loud accents and soft inner-beats) – and is used on drumset ALL the time when a backbeat is followed by a ghost note (as in a half-time shuffle).

The only reason I haven’t put it on my personal “essential” list is that it’s essentially a Multiple Bounce Stroke that has an extra level of control added so that you’re able to control the volume and placement of the 2nd stroke.  Does that make it a separate stroke style – or just a modified technique?



Of course, for most of us this is not earth shattering information.  We’ve had the advantage of having teachers who broke down these basics – or we discovered them on our own or by watching others. The problem is that a large percentage of drummers won’t ever get this basic information and will struggle for years – either because they don’t have a teacher, or is learning in a school band situation where a non-percussionist band director didn’t quite grasp the fundamentals in their methods course.

If the basic strokes were spelled out and universally accepted,  I believe more students would have success – and immediately be able to apply the  skills to ALL drumming –  AND it would provide the basis for developing essential and extended rudimental vocabulary.

Again, I don’t think that these basic strokes should REPLACE essential rudimental vocabulary (which I’ll discuss in my next post on the subject) – but it should be listed as the pre-requisite to beginning study on the vocabulary.  I think most of us do that anyway – but having it formally broken down as the ESSENTIAL RUDIMENTS is a much, much better way of getting that information out to the less/non informed.