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The Real Rudiments A Springboard to the World of Percussion

MSG Jeff Prosperie • October 2023Percussion • October 15, 2023

Imagine if you will, in a field hundreds of years ago, a drum major trying to teach a young drummer boy basic drumming patterns for the purpose of military signaling and to regulate the duty day. Now, imagine a music instructor in modern times teaching the same patterns for the purpose of musical expression. These patterns were first dubbed “rudiments” by Charles Ashworth, drum major of the United States Marine Band, in his 1812 publication  A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating. This book became the standard training manual for military drummers. These patterns (rudiments) had their origins from Swiss military drummers as early as the 13th century and made their way via Swiss mercenaries to the British and eventually the colonists of the new world. 

Today the rudiments are no longer taught as a tool for military communication for signaling as we saw in the Revolutionary War and Civil War, but rather as useful hand patterns and vocabulary words to create musical sentences and to facilitate transfer value to all percussion instruments. So perhaps a reexamination of how we teach the rudiments is in order.

I recommend before rudiments are taught, there should be the teaching of what many percussionists consider the “real rudiments,” or what is commonly referred to as “stroke types.” This was not the case in that imaginary field hundreds of years ago but is the case for today’s modern music educator’s pedagogical methodology.

Musicians at the Festival of Military Bands, St.Petersburg, Russia, 12.06.2008

Stroke types can go by several names, and these are included below along with a brief description. The key takeaway is the name of the stroke is labeled by what the stick does after it hits the drum as described below:

1. Rebound (or full stroke) = Stroke starts up and ends up while utilizing natural rebound. The height and velocity are determined by the dynamic marking.

2. Control (or down stroke) = The stroke starts up but stays down after contact to perform at the next lower dynamic level. The stick is controlled by squeezing the stick at the fulcrum point as well as the back fingers.

3. Tap = low end notes that are softer than accents and can be approached like softer versions of the rebound/full stroke

4. Up = lifting a tap up to a higher stroke to prepare for a louder dynamic.

These are the four basic stroke types that will facilitate the learning of the rudiments. An additional fifth stroke type of a press stroke/dead stroke/multiple bounce stroke involves pressing the stick into the head for different lengths of articulation or to sustain a concert roll.

Once the stroke types are learned, then they can be assigned to the individual notes of the rudiment. For example: the four notes of the paradiddle (Rlrr) would be control stroke, up stroke, tap, tap and then repeat off the other hand. Please note that the capitalized letter “R” is the accented note.

Before teaching the rudiments, I recommend first mastering the individual stroke types. A favorite exercise is four notes on the same hand with the first two being accents and played as Rebound, Control, Tap, Up.  Once that basic pattern is developed then a springboard to all rudiments is established. The hands will now be able to better navigate around a variety of percussion instruments for artistic expression which goes way beyond signaling the troops or regulating the duty day. The rudiments are essential. If the rudiments are the drummer’s words for building musical sentences, then the stroke types are the drummer’s alphabet to construct those words which will allow the drummer to move from a role of functionality to being a musician who can express and inspire.

MSG Jeff Prosperie currently serves as the group leader of the West Point Band’s Field Music Group “The Hellcats”. He is the first and only “Triple Crown” World Snare Drum Champion having won DCI, PAS and DCA as well as the PAS Orchestral Snare Drum Competition. He is a member of The World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, a world championship adjudicator for DCI and WGI as well as the former percussion caption head of the World Champion Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps. Prior to his military service, he served as the professor of percussion at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette and the principal percussionist with The Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. 

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