When the word “rudimental” is mentioned, many set drummers quit listening or dive behind a wall of prejudice. The term often brings mental pictures of regimented and inflexible technique to kill your style and fun in a boring jumble of details.
However, set players who’ve trained their hands through good rudimental practice will testify that the truth of rudimental study is just the opposite. Rudiments can be a real asset to all drummers.
A quick check of the world’s best percussionists will reveal a very high degree of stick control. These drummers are able to play at high speeds with power and strength, finesse and softness, all according to the demands of the music. Good rudimental training can help develop these kinds of hands.
There’s a big difference between just learning the rudiments and good rudimental training. In drum corps and on the set, the idea is not simply playing the correct sticking. The idea is to perform complex sticking combinations, accents and over-all dynamics at high speed with complete control. This means playing consistently without error. Everyone makes mistakes, but good rudimental training can greatly reduce the frequency of errors.
The height of the drumstick over the playing surface is the answer to many stick control problems. This is known as positioning. You can’t play consistently error free without maintaining the proper height for each stroke. This isn’t theory. You can prove it for yourself. It applies to almost every aspect of set playing where the sticks are utilized. Cymbal lines and fills definitely improve with good stick control and proper positioning.
One of your major aims should be to eliminate excess, unnecessary and uncontrolled motion. Fast playing originates in the reflex centers of the brain and brainstem. It’s therefore important to preplan and pre-train your reflexive hand and finger movements so that they don’t become confused and disorganized in actual playing situations. This is where rudiments and rudimental positioning come in.
Not all of the twenty-six “Standard American Drum Rudiments” as adopted by the National Association of Rudimental Drummers are as widely used today as they once were. In their place, some alternate stickings have arisen. I’ve used the stickings I thought applicable to the present day situation, and re-ordered the rudiments into more logical groupings.
Some rudiments, such as the flam paradiddle diddle, are rarely used today. Others, such as the flam tap and flam accent are extremely useful on both snare and set.
Proper use of these rudiments as exercises will enable you to develop playing habits that yield a high degree of stick control at widely varying speeds and volume levels.
Three main positioning rules have been applied to each rudiment.
- All hits should begin in a low position unless specified otherwise.
- A hit may begin in a high position only if it’s accented or is the main stroke of a flam or ruff.
- When the main stroke of a flam or ruff appears in the same rudiment with an accented hit, the accented hit takes precedence and is played from the high position. The main stroke begins from a medium height.
Once the correct sticking, spacing and positioning for a rudiment becomes automatic and accurate at a slow speed, gradually increase your speed. Accuracy is much more important than speed at this stage. Never sacrifice accuracy for speed. Once accuracy, control and correct technique have become habitual, speed will be relatively easy.
Before long, you should be able to smoothly play each rudiment “open” (slow), picking up speed until it’s “closed” (fast), gradually slowing again until it’s once more “open” (slow).
Use the sticking, spacing and position exactly as indicated. Repetition is important to establishing proper reflexes and good playing habits.
Low position is two to five inches above the playing surface, Medium position is five to eight inches, and High position is eight to fourteen inches. Be consistent within these limits. For example, if volume requirements dictate a low height of two inches, play all your low strokes uniformly at that height.
Once a hit is made, the stick should rebound directly to the correct height for the next stroke without any extra motion.
Whatever care and effort you put in will pay off later, so be patient, relax and have fun.