History of drum rudiments

For many years there has been a discussion among drummers, music teachers, conductors and composers about DRUM RUDIMENTS: how they appeared and what is their place in modern music. I would like to trace the history of the development of the rudiments and discuss their purpose and value.

In music teaching, when teaching a novice student to play any instrument, one should be guided by uniformity. The methodology of teaching and execution must contain some basis that would contribute to this uniformity. For instruments with a distinct tone, scales are used to develop basic techniques and finger control. The snare drum, being an instrument of indefinite tone, has no scale, and scales are not applicable to it, however, drum rudiments have been developed over the years, which serve mainly to develop technique and uniformity of performance.

Webster's Dictionary defines the term "rudiment" [eng. rudiment - "foundations", "elementary principles", from lat. rudimentum - "rudiment", "initial stage"] as "the first principle of any art or science". This is where we should start - from the "first principle of art", or, in other words, from the very foundations of drumming, from drum rudiments. There are 26 of them in total, and, like the scales of other instruments, they are learned at an early stage, one by one.

You ask: who was the first to use the rudiments? Historians in this field usually refer to the Swiss, who first began to use drum rudiments in military drum and flute bands. The first aim, of course, was to establish uniformity among the drummers by using an equal number of drummers and flutists in military bands. The drummers had to play in unison. All this was about four hundred years ago.

Musical writing as we know it today was not known at that time. The drummers played "by heart" - from sound, from memory, as, for example: tra-da-dum, tra-da-dum, tra-da-dum dum dum. The long fraction then looked like da-da-ma-ma and began with the left hand so that the weaker hand would be trained from the very beginning.


It is the Swiss who claim to have invented drum rudiments. We are based on Dr. Fritz Berger's manual for drum and flute orchestras entitled "Das Basler Trommeln" ["Basel Drumming Art"], published in the Swiss city of Basel. This book provides examples from early history, as well as a picture of a drum and flute band depicted on a building dating back to 1525. This book was published in 1928, but is now out of print.

Dr. Fritz Berger, who died in 1961, was a lawyer by profession in Basel, Switzerland. Drumming was his hobby, and he was considered one of the best in this field. In 1951 I had the opportunity to pay a visit to Dr. Berger in Basel, together with Eugene Giannini, a drum instructor for the police band in Zurich. In conversation with these authorities, I learned that musical notation in Switzerland began to be used around 1620. Sometime around 1660, these musical notations caught the eye of the French, and they also formed military drum bands, some with flutes, others with trumpets (horns). And then the musical notation began to be modified - perhaps due to the faster marching step of the French. The Swiss marching pace was, as it is now, rather slow at 110 paces per minute, while the French pace is between 120 and 128 paces.

Scotland became the next point of migration of rudiments. Again, slight variations arose, both in terms of tempo and style of performance. Piper bands usually march at a tempo of 120 steps per minute. Soon the British picked up the same, also adapting the rudiments to their own special style. Thus, when moving from one country to another, there were slight changes and, perhaps, even the rejection of some individual elements.

Rudiments came to America when the Eastern States were British colonies (approximately in the 16th-17th centuries), along with the English regiments.

During the American Revolution of the 18th century, American military bands (mainly drum and flute bands) were, of course, taken over from the British. What kind of music was used at that time and what kind of musical notes were - unfortunately, no data has been preserved about this.

America's first manual for drum-flute orchestras listing drum rudiments appeared on January 16, 1812, by Charles Stewart Ashworth, and is accompanied by the following comment in the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.) catalogue: "Calculated, principally for use by the United States Army and Navy." This book contains 28 drum rudiments, very similar to those used today (especially all fractions that begin with the left hand).

The next most important book of the 19th century was the Bruce & Emmett manual, published in May 1862. The authors were: George B. Bruce, then the lead drum instructor at the Practical Training School on Governors Island, New York, and Daniel D. Emmett, flautist and author of the popular American song "Dixie". In this book, for the first time, the second beat is accentuated when playing the long fraction da-da-ma-ma. When I was ten years old, my father sent me with this book to John Catlin, a drum instructor, to take my first lesson from him. This book was published by Wm. A. Pond & Co. in New York and became widespread in the next forty years.

This was followed by the book "Strube Drum and Fife Instructor" ["Strube's Manual for Drum and Flute Orchestra" by Gardiner A. Strube], published February 9, 1869. This book was published for the New England National Guard (by their own order). She added nothing new to the Bruce & Emmett book. In fact, she repeated it, with only a few changes, and even those were clearly not in her favor. This book was not ubiquitous like Bruce & Emmett, but was used almost exclusively by the New England National Guard
Until that time, the orchestras of various paramilitary structures consisted mainly of flutists and drummers. But then comes the US Naval Band, which is a division of drummers and buglers. John Philip Sousa has now taken on the task of writing the manual. His book was called Trumpet and Drum. In it, Mr. Sousa writes: "The author would like to acknowledge Mr. F. W. Lusby, US Naval Band Drummer Instructor, for his contributions to this work." The book was published in 1886. It became a manual for all drummers of all army and other paramilitary structures and, in addition, was widely used among the civilian population, since it contained all drum rudiments.

At the end of the 19th century, the art of drumming seems to have been put on a grand scale. With the invention of the foot pedal and the advent of the so-called "double" performance [Eng. double drumming, since the invention of the pedal and the advent of the drum kit allowed one drummer to play "for two"] the number of drum science teachers increased even more: some brought new ideas or more advanced techniques, others were not so progressive. The dance instructor-drummer was mainly trying to make the student understand that the rudiments were outdated and not so important for modern performance. Even a few old-school specialists have published books on better techniques, various pressed fractions, etc., but despite this, some natives of the eastern United States remained true to tradition, among them Carl Gardner, the Dodge brothers, George B. Stone, Harry Bauer, J. Burns Moore, Gus Moeller and others. Harry Bauer's first book, The Imperial Method of Drumming, published by John Church & Co. in 1889, was a very good manual, based strictly on rudiments, and was widely accepted. His second book, The Bauer Method, was published by himself in 1904 and included a section on Fraction in Threes. The material proved to be short-lived, because the fraction in threes was extremely impractical.


In the first couple of decades of the 20th century, there were huge changes in the art of drumming: there was a lot of progress. Dance ensembles, the first drum kits, foot pedals, ragtime, improvisation, and numerous drum learning techniques appeared to help drummers who played the first prototype drum kits. For a while, it really seemed that drum rudiments were doomed. Moreover, another grandiose innovation followed - a cinematograph (silent film), with drummers (all sorts of boom-tram-boom effects for sounding) and background effects.

But there were, of course, brass bands in amusement parks and city parks, army and navy bands, bands at the World's Fairs, and most importantly, the magnificent Washington Navy Band, conducted by John Philip Sousa. This orchestra has made three world tours. It was the Naval Band that, by and large, remained true to the rudiments - more than any other band at that time.

In subsequent years, Sousa's manual for drum horn orchestras was no longer published. The printed forms were accidentally destroyed. I have one copy of the book, which I showed to Mr. Sousa in 1932, expressing the opinion that it should be republished. Mr. Sousa was already retired at the time and didn't want to do it. I asked him for permission to republish the book and received consent. This book is now included in the Ludwig catalogue.


At the end of the First World War (1919), the American Legion [the largest organization of war veterans in the United States, at that time just founded] organized and conducted a competition of drum and bugle bands throughout the country. This also included an individual drum performance competition. School ensembles also held both competitions for individual performance and competitions among groups. This required competent judges, and there were not many of them. On top of that, there was also a lack of uniformity in the performance of rudiments: for example, a long fraction, according to Bruce & Emmett, was performed with an emphasis on the second beat, starting openly. In Strube's book, printed seven years later (1859), this emphasis is omitted. Moreover, Bruce & Emmett's 1862 book shows a long open, closed, and reopen, while Strube students slowly start an open with two left hand strokes (but no emphasis on the second beat), then gradually "close" the fraction, accelerating to the maximum rate, and stop there, leaving the fraction closed. On page 7, this fraction is accompanied by the following comment: "It is not necessary for any rudimentary exercise to be made open again after it has been brought to a closed state." It was this comment that caused much of the dissatisfaction, especially among Westerners who adhered to the Bruce & Emmett method, while residents of the eastern part of the country (and especially New England) insisted on the Strube method. As a result, this led to the formation of N.A.R.D. National Association of Rudimental Drummers.

In 1925, Sanford drummer Augustus "Gus" Moeller collected information on the rudiments in his famous book, The Moeller Book: The Art of Snare Drumming.


Ludwig Drum then brought together a group of eminent drumming instructors from all parts of the country - east, west, north and south - to discuss the issue and come up with a practical system that would suit everyone.

The meeting was held during the National Convention of the American Legion in Chicago, June 20, 1932. I will never forget that evening. We discussed and performed the rudiments for six hours in a row, almost until the very morning. But we felt that we would save the drum rudiments if we took the most practical of them as a "standard", without deviating from any of the methods recognized at that time. We kept a Bruce & Emmett shot, open and closed. We also left out lesson #25 from the Strube methodology. We divided the 26 rudiments into two groups, choosing what we called the thirteen most important, which each candidate for entry into the National Association of Rudimental Drummers had to play as a test; and the remaining 13, as we reasoned, will be assimilated automatically. And to this day we are convinced of the correctness of this decision. When a young student was required to learn all 26 rudiments at once, this really forced many to look for workarounds or even to abandon the rudiments altogether. We needed to avoid this. Everyone agreed that the drum rudiments play the role of scales in drumming and should be preserved.


The only entry fee for each of the candidates was the requirement to play 13 of the most important standard American rudiments, which ensured admission. There was also a nominal annual membership fee. This money was used to print sheets with rudiments, which were sent to ensemble leaders, competition judges and students. We sponsored masterclasses in schools and military bands to spread the word about the new concept of standard American rudiments.

Today, all drum competitions are judged on the basis of N.A.R.D. Even new musical compositions, drumming books and marches reflect the influence of drumming rudiments. Bandleaders, as well as drum teachers, have recognized their importance - and as a result, today America can justifiably be proud that we have the best drummers in the world: in the dance field, on the stage, in military bands and schools.

European countries, unfortunately, still ignore the rudiments. As one German said: "We play according to the notes: if there is a note, we make a blow, and it does not matter at all with which hand." Well, John Philip Sousa wouldn't play like that. This is one of the reasons why today our drummers are the best in the world.