Stanley Spector

Challenging the Rudimental System

Stanley Spector studied percussion with Ralph Eames, George L. Stone and Simon Sternberg. He was a scholarship student at Tanglewood from 1942-46 and received a Bachelor of Music Degree from Boston University in 1950. He played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitsky at the age of 17, and with the West Point Academy Band and the North Carolina Symphony before the age of 20.

Following his participating membership with the first Jazz Workshop in Boston in the early I950’s, Stanley Spector began his research to devise a method for the teaching of jazz drumming with the specific purpose of finding a way of teaching what had previously been considered unteachable aspects of jazz performance. This resulted in the creation of an in-depth teaching method through the use of two-way tape recorded communications.

Stanley Spector is the teacher of Jake Hanna, Joe Cocuzzo and Ray DesRoach, virtuoso classical percussionist.

Would you imagine in your wildest hallucination that a jazz or rock drummer of yesterday or today could derive artistic stimulation and creative preparation through a method of drumming accepted in 1869 as a Manual of Instruction by the United States Army? When you sit down at the practice pad every day and go through the 26 rudiments of drumming to build up your “technique” so that you may better express your “ideas” what you are actually practicing is the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor approved by John A. Rawlings, Secretary of War, War Department, Washington, D.C. 111 years ago. That was years before the invention of the bass drum pedal, hi-hat cymbals, wire brushes, and the discovery of the rim shot. It was years before Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet and discovered that when he blew in one end that jazz music came out the other end. When I see that the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor came off the press at a printing shop located at 284 Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut, I get the feeling that somebody is trying to tell us something.

A few years back a drum workshop was presented at the Newport Jazz Festival in which Louis Bellson, Jo Jones, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, and Mel Lewis participated. In deference to his reputation as a drummer’s drummer, Louis Bellson was asked to give a brief demonstration of jazz drumming technique. He proceeded to give a performance of what is called the long roll. Starting very slowly he played two beats with the left hand followed by two beats in the right hand. When this technique is gradually increased to a blinding velocity, the effect of the audio-visual blur of stick motion and sound produces what to the general audience appears to be a magic trick. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause. The thing that gave me pause was that the long roll is probably the very last technique needed in jazz drumming. What Louis Bellson performed came from page 7 of the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor. It was difficult for me to grasp what Louis Bellson had in mind when he represented the long roll as a technique basic to jazz drumming.

Was the editor really serious when we read the following statement in the 1938 publication of the Gene Krupa Drum Method: “Krupa was not satisfied with merely the spontaneous enthusiasm of rhythmic drumming. He felt that there must be an intellectual side to his instrument as any other, and so he took up the study of rudiments.” In that book there is a presentation of the Strube rudiments and four examples of how the rudiments apply to the Army Camp Duty of the Civil War. Then without preparation or explanation there is a leap of 69 years into technological innovations such as the bass drum pedal, hi-hat cymbals, wire brushes, and rim shot with instruction as to their use. This is followed by ten transcriptions of Krupa’s improvised recorded performances with the Benny Goodman Band, Trio and Quartet. In no way does Krupa explain how the rudimental portion of his book connects with the jazz performance of his predecessors, his contemporaries, or even his own improvised playing.

Is it reasonable to suppose that in the present age of space travel, atomic energy, and television that what was good for a Board of Officers meeting at Fort Columbus, New York Harbor in 1869 is still relevant for the jazz or rock drummer? Are we to believe that Major General G. L. Hartsuff, Brigadier General H. D. Walden, and 1st Lieutenant E. O. Gibson, the officers of that board knew where it was at with drumming for all-time when they decided that the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor had to replace Upton’s Tactics because the latter was “deficient in preliminary instruction” for training drummers and fifers of the United States Army in the Army Camp Duty of 111 years ago?

The Strube Drum and Fife Instructor contained the calls of the Army Camp Duty—Reveille, Fatigue Call, Surgeon’s Call, To The Colors, The Recall, The First Call, or The Drummer’s Call, Second Call, Assembly, Chow Calls (my language), Church Call, etc., and, further, a collection of Marching Cadences for the troops. The Army Camp Duty of that day was performed either by the drum alone, the drum and fife together, or the bugle alone. (It would seem that the drum and bugle corps was a later development.)

Apparently, Gardiner A. Strube, Drum Major for the 12th Infantry, innovated a system of “preliminary instruction” by demonstrating that all the Calls, and Marching Cadences were exactly reducible to 26 bits and parts, the 26 rudiments of drumming. The Strube Drum and Fife Instructor began with a way of notation by which the 26 rudiments of drumming were presented as a “new and entirely original system of expressing hand to hand drumbeating,” according to the title page. They are the 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 15 stroke rolls, the flam, ruff, single and double drag, single, double, and triple ratamacues, flam accent, flam tap, flamacue, single and double paradiddles, the flam paradiddle, the flam paradiddle-diddle, the drag paradiddles numbers one and two, Lesson 25, and finally the long roll. The various numbered short rolls indicated the exact number of times the drum was struck during the performance of a particular roll. Terms such as the flam, ruff, ratamacue were not so much esoteric, rather they were arrived at by onomatopeia (formation of words in imitation of natural sound: buzz, hiss).

The Strube Method indicated that each rudiment would be mastered before proceeding to the next. And, I imagine, like the teaching of drum and bugle corps, or much of the drum teaching in the public schools today, that it was mostly of a rote nature. After the 26 rudiments were mastered they were then put together to form the Camp Duty, Calls, and Marching Cadences. A more boring educational approach I cannot imagine, but considering the needs and general educational procedures of the military it was very much in keeping with the usual army procedures in respect to education—by the numbers.

I guess that if Gene Krupa had a book on the market then his contemporary and “competitor” Buddy Rich also had to have a book on the market. But after reading the publisher’s foreword and the introduction written by Tommy Dorsey found in Buddy Rich’s Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments published in 1942, it is difficult indeed to tell exactly who is putting us on. Again we have another presentation of the Strube Rudiments, their application to reading exercises, the initial portions of three pieces from the Civil War Camp Duty that are also found in completed form in the Krupa book, but again there is no indication as to how all of this relates to the jazz performances of Buddy Rich’s predecessors, his contemporaries, or his own improvised recorded performances. At least the Krupa book had the saving grace to present us with ten transcriptions of actual recorded performances that he had made with the Benny Goodman organization. However, I may be too hasty, for on page 93 there are four photographs of Buddy Rich with the caption Buddy Rich in action. Under the fourth picture appears the following, “after all of the rudiments and exercises in this book have been thoroughly learned, the student may then practice them by holding the sticks timpani fashion, as shown above.” The publishers may have been working under the assumption of the Chinese proverb that since a picture is worth a thousand words, four pictures through logarithmic projections may be beyond any commercial calculation between information communicated and the price paid.

In 1946, eight years after the appearance of his first book, Gene Krupa gets down to business in a volume called the Science of Drumming. In the editor’s foreword the following appears, “Gene Krupa believes foundational drumming is all important no matter which branch the student eventually follows, so, side-by-side with basic studies a logical progression of jazz is provided. No matter which phase interests the drummer, an established study procedure is offered.” The claim that “a logical progression of jazz is provided” appears to me to be over enthusiastic. Krupa this time around does give us some idea of how the rudiments may have jazz application, at least in terms of written out material in a lesson book. But I would have been more impressed with the claim if he had shown us specific examples as to rudimental application in actual recorded performances of jazz drummers that had preceded him, in the performance of his contemporaries, or, in fact, in his own improvised recorded performances.

William F. Ludwig, Jr. in his book Swing Drumming published in 1942 writes, “It is possible to play the dance drums without a knowledge of the 26 Standard American Rudiments. The ambitious student, will, however, study them along with his pursuit of dance technique, if he desires to reach the very top in the drum world. The chief value of the 26 rudiments lies in their usefulness in helping the dance drummer change from one type of dance work to another as rapidly as changing trends demand. . . . There is one sure guarantee that this can never happen to you—that is, learn the 26 American Rudiments! Those drummers with a solid rudimental foundation will always pick their jobs! The progressive drummer is usually the rudimental drummer.”

Since Mr. Ludwig is aware of “changing trends”, even he might consider it helpful if I pointed out that at this time the term “dance drumming” is just a bit dated. And since he calls his book Swing Drumming, actually a particular stylized period in jazz, I think that what he means to describe is any kind of improvisational drumming performed on a set of drums, and it would have greater meaning if his term was updated or modified to “jazz drumming”. If one considers his final conclusions about rudiments, I suppose that it was remarkably liberal of him to concede that “it is possible to play jazz drums’ without a knowledge of the 26 Standard American Rudiments.” It certainly should not go unnoticed that as far back as 1942, Mr. Ludwig was aware of changing trends in drumming and counsels drummers to be on their toes. But I grow uneasy when I read phrases like “one sure guarantee”, “doomed to oblivion”, “those drummers with a solid rudimental foundation will always pick their jobs.”

It all has the sound of fundamentalist preaching. First, there is only one true religion, and while times and musical styles come and go it is the “solid rudimental background” that is the only true religion for drummers. Second, keep on your toes against stagnation for in idle hands are the ways of the devil that will lead you, if not to hell, at least “to oblivion.” In the age of the ego it is hard to know which is the worst alternative. But if you practice the true religion of a “solid rudimental foundation” you have “one sure guarantee” of going to heaven. And I am sure that all youthful aspiring and perspiring drummers would agree that “heaven” is being able to “pick your own job.”

Again, over enthusiastic and extravagant claims have been made for the Rudimental System, and yet there is not the slightest documented evidence as to whether successful jazz drummers in their recorded improvising either made use of, or were influenced by the rudimental system. Why is it that we continue to have the proposition, in monotonous repetitions that drone on and on, that rudimental drumming is basic training for the jazz drummer. Why? One guess is that when a professional drummer puts down his drum sticks and instructs another in how they are to be picked up and used, he has stepped out of the world of performance into the world of theory. I suspect that, because these drummers’ total activity was with drumm ing and music, that their formal educations were limited to the extent that when it came to proposing ideas, concepts, and the ories in writing that they were less prepared than they might have been. It is necessary to present plausible evidence, a careful and detailed exposition of this evidence in terms of the field as a whole, and some meaningful and substantial proofs that will sustain the initial propositions and claims. Further, while a specialist, such as a performing jazz drummer, certainly can function and grow in his specialized area, he does not have any perspective or objectivity about the very processes that he has gone through to reach his ability to successfully perform. In other words, he can feel, hear, and function within the jazz or rock environments. He is one with the environment and because of this he never takes notice of the fact there is a jazz environment. Copyright by Stanley Spector.