Rudimental Ramblings 3: The “Essential” Essential Rudiments?

May 21, 2010 2:08 pm in Concert, Drumset, Marching by mark wessels

In my previous two Rudimental Ramblings posts, we talked about “What are rudiments anyway?” – an attempt to define what the term “rudiments” really means – and “Basic Strokes” – some of the fundamental strokes that comprise the foundation to rudimental vocabulary. Of course, there wasn’t any consensus on either topic.  I didn’t really expect any.  Opening this particular can ‘o worms is like asking “which is better – traditional or matched?”.

My guess is that there will always be widely differing opinions on any subject regarding drumming technique – especially if your background is marching, orchestral or drumset.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it…  After all, this isn’t a Tea Party meeting –  there can be more than one successful viewpoint!

So, let’s continue.  In this article, I’d like to delve into what is “Essential Rudimental Vocabulary” – and what order do you teach the rudiments to young students?


One of the biggest problems I’ve stated all along is that there are simply too many “Essential Rudiments”. It seems that back-in-the-day, drummers and band directors alike could wrap their heads around 13 – and some could even be persuaded to expand to 26 (though, truthfully I’d bet that most band directors didn’t require the second set of 13.  Probably because 2 sided copiers didn’t exist in those days – and most drummers couldn’t keep up with more than 1 piece of paper).

My contention is that if we could make it simple, more people would adopt the idea that learning the rudiments is a necessary part of learning to play ANY percussion instrument. Having 5 or 6 basic strokes with a list of 10 “essential rudimental vocabulary” could lay a great foundation… the rest is icing on the cake.

Incidentally, I’m certainly not the first to suggest this.  Even the PAS “international drum rudiment committee” had a list of 7 Essential with a suggested order of instruction:

By and large, I think the list is reasonable. Had they stopped there and ONLY published that list – or at least titled the other 33 “Extended Rudimental Vocabulary” (with the ability to extend it easily with other hybrids), we would be much better off.

Here’s a few of my personal views on the “Essential” list:

First and foremost, I disagree with the statement that all rudiments should be practiced open-close-open. At best, this is an intermediate skill – only to be pursued after the fundamentals of the rudiment are achieved.  Besides, do you really want to teach a beginning drummer to rush?  Better that you work on a stairstep model of working with a metronome.  When putting together the Vic Firth Rudiment project – that’s how I decided to present it – a goal oriented method of practicing the rudiments.

They also give the option of practicing at “an even, moderate march tempo”. That’s crazy. Ultimately you need to be able to control the rudiments at all tempi, don’t you?

Sorry. I digress. Here’s my list:

1. Single Stroke Roll

I prefer to call this “Alternating Single Strokes” – especially to young students. Unarguably the most important rudiment – whether you play a rudimental snare drum, a keyboard instrument, timpani, congas or drumset.  Makes you wonder why it wasn’t included on the original 13… what were they thinking?

2. Double Stroke Roll

I start young kids on “Double Strokes” after good rebound strokes are taught. But aren’t double strokes essentially 2 single strokes? Technically, yes – but you’ve never taught a beginner if you think that they can automatically play quick, relaxed double strokes once they learn single strokes. Play a double stroke “roll” on a pillow and tell me you are using the same technique as you do when you play singles.

The difficulty of the double stroke roll is that it’s actually 2 techniques: the double STROKE and the double BOUNCE – so I treat it as 2 separate ‘rudiments’ (at least initially). I believe that the double bounce roll is a hybrid of the multiple bounce roll (same two-for-one technique… different amount of pressure on the fulcrum). Working on double strokes with a metronome, gradually pushing the tempo faster over time worked for me. At the point where the student can play double strokes as fast as a slow double bounce, then the technique switches. Eventually those two techniques are “blended” – but that’s an intermediate skill at best.

3. Single Paradiddle

Again, I treat this as 2 ‘rudiments’… First, as a combination of singles and doubles – Second, as a combination of down, up, tap strokes.

Why as a combination of singles and doubles (a non-accented paradiddle)? Basically, this is an intro into the world of “stick control” – the goal being to make all strokes sound the same. I doubt that many would argue that it’s a necessary skill when playing keyboard, timpani or drumset.. or any place where double strokes are necessary when moving around multiple surfaces.

In my view, the “accented paradiddle” is only essential because it requires mastery of 3 basic strokes: Down (controlled), up and tap.  Accented alternated triplets would probably be an even better rudiment if you really think about it…

4. Multiple Bounce

The importance of this one goes without saying to me – the technique of making “one stroke = multiple sounds” is different than any other that I can think of.  I’ve heard arguments that this is the one rudiment that should be played “soft-loud-soft” rather than “slow-fast-slow” and that doesn’t make any sense to me. Working on it at a very slow tempo exposes weaknesses in the sound and sustain of the bounce from hand to hand…  Like the Single Stroke Roll – it only begins to sound like a roll when you’ve successfully worked up the tempo over time.

5. Five Stroke Roll

To me, the necessary function of the 5 stroke roll is that you’re combining relaxed bounces with the slight pressure of the downstroke accent – so I do believe this is an essential rudiment. You could easily substitute any other roll rudiment and achieve the same result.

The larger question is “how do you teach the 5 stroke roll”? Personally, I’ve always taught both…  2 double strokes followed by an accent and 2 multiple bounces followed by an accent. Again, starting very slowly – in duple time. Always with a 2 height approach, stressing the release of pressure after the accent. Eventually using double bounces instead of double strokes. The triplet version is taught later (another essential skill: the tap-roll).

6. Flam

Many arguments have been made that this is just a combination of soft and loud strokes – not really to be included on a list of “essential rudiments”.  I beg to differ. Mainly because I’ve seen so many students have problems with ALL the other flam rudiments because they never really mastered the foundation of playing perfect flams with correct spacing between grace notes and primary strokes.  It’s not just the spacing that’s important – it’s also the relaxation of the grace note (whether played as an upstroke or a tap).

Can we stop there?

As a list of ‘bare essentials’, you probably could. Is a drag really the same as a 5 stroke roll without one of the bounces? Is a Flam Tap really the same as a flam on a double stroke? If you can play a paradiddle and a flam, can you play a flam paradiddle? Technically speaking, yes – but in my experience, there are a few essential rudiments that can help open the door to the hundreds of other hybrids, so I’d add a few more:

7: Flam Accent

A representative of the “downstroked flam rudiments”. In my experience, adding a flam to any alternated accent pattern is a challenge to young students at first.  Something about playing a flam, then following with a tap on the opposite hand seems to throw them for a loop. Working on the Flam Accent (or Flam Paradiddle) slowly, one stroke at a time, opens the door to all the other downstroked flam rudiments.

8: Flam Tap

A representative of the “rebound flam rudiments”. For whatever reason, after teaching control on flams, getting my students to relax on the primary stroke of the flam in order to let the stick rebound was difficult.  So much of intermediate-advanced drumming requires that skill, so I include it on my essentials list.  Other rebound rudiments?  Swiss Army Triplets – and any of the “Cheese” hybrids all the kids love so much! Beyond rudimental drumming, if you can’t play rebound rudiments, forget about playing ANY funk or latin grooves on the drumset.

9: Drag

My students over 20+ years of teaching had to be taught that a drag is NOT a ‘bounced flam’.  Maybe it’s how it looks on paper? I don’t know – but because it’s so important to almost all drums (rudimental, orchestral, drumset), I think it’s absolutely necessary so I wouldn’t push it to the “Extended Rudimental Vocabulary” list.

10: Single Drag

I could probably be talked out of this being “essential” – except that (in triplet form), the single drag teaches the important concept of controlling a bounce immediately following an accent. All the drag rudiments require this skill.  And 10 makes a nice round number, don’t you think?

There it is. My personal Top Ten list.

What about an “inverted/whip” stroke rudiment? I just couldn’t justify an inverted flam tap, flamacue or flam paradiddle-diddle as an essential. What about the single stroke four (aka: the 4 stroke ruff)? The six stroke roll? It’s a slippery slope, my friend.  Where do you stop?

I’ll be interested in your feedback – not only about what should or should not be on the list, but what order you teach the rudiments.

Who’s going to throw the first stone?