by Rick Beckham
[So many diverse groups and styles lay claim to the term “rudimental drumming”. Most people associate the term with parade or field drumming, marching groups. Even those groups have evolved since the introduction of drums on the battlefield in the 16th century, splintering from the early days of playing simple command beats into many branches of styles. Today the types of marching units that utilize drums range from ancient Swiss, the earliest practitioners of field drumming, to ancient fife, which is mostly the style from the American Revolutionary period, to modern fife, which breaks from the ancient fife solid tempo of 110 and allows a faster beat of 120, to pipe band drumming, which relies more on buzz rolls and has the unique “dead” stroke, to marching bands and drum and bugle corps that are as diverse themselves as the number of musical idioms (military style, corps style, scramble style, show band, street swagger, orchestral, Broadway production oriented, jazz, etc). With the large number of assorted, and sometimes contrasting, field groups present today, the goal of this paper is to define the term rudimental drumming in such a way that the definition will satisfy not just the variety of drumming with marching units, but all types of drumming.]
Is rudimental drumming the act of playing drum rudiments? If so, then all forms of drumming is rudimental in varying degrees as even the simplest forms of drumming utilizes single strokes. Do we count modern rudiments as rudimental drumming, such as Shirley Murphy's, Eggbeaters, Book Reports, or the various cheese rudiments, etc, or do we draw a line in the sand and state that rudimental drumming is only the 26 American NARD Rudiments?
Are buzz rolls rudimental? What about malfs (backward flams), can they be considered rudimental just because the drummers of the Bruce & Emmett days didn't conceive of them? How about stick tricks, like backsticking, fake flams, stick flips, or any number of visual enhancements performed with sticks? Can any of them be considered rudimental, and if so why?
Is rudimental drumming performed only on marching drums using traditional grip? If so, then should we disavow as rudimental any drumming not performed on marching drums, even on practice pads, or played with matched grip, or any non-traditional grip? If traditional grip is the only preferred grip for rudimental drumming, are all aberrations of traditional grip allowed to be associated?
What about Swiss, Scottish Pipe Band, or fife drumming? Can those idioms, or any idioms that are played on marching drums, also be considered rudimental? Do we extend as rudimental parade bands, scramble bands, or show bands just because marching is involved?
So what exactly is rudimental drumming? Is it all of these things, or only a subset of these things? What are the elements that define “rudimental drumming”? Let's first look at rudiments, as the term applies to drumming. What are rudiments but various sticking combinations set to particular rhythmic patterns where each rudiment requires a coordinated movement of the sticks, directed by the brain through the hands. In a nutshell, rudimental drumming is the study of coordination. Coordination with respect to physiology is the harmonious functioning of muscles or groups of muscles in the execution of movements.
Even learning the simplest rudiment, the single stroke, requires a certain amount of practice in order to coordinate alternating the hands while maintaining rhythmic quality and evenness of volume. The double stroke roll cannot be mastered until the brain learns the movement of the arms, as well as grip and finger placement on the sticks, and how to adjust each element as the tempo accelerates. Proper balance becomes even more critical when learning the simplest lead-hand switch rudiment, the paradiddle. Instructing a young student how to play a flam is an exercise in coaching how to coordinate two separate and disparate stick heights while executing proper note spacing and volume control.
Using this definition for rudimental drumming, the type of drum or method for holding the sticks becomes irrelevant. Playing different musical idioms also becomes immaterial since no matter the style, one must becomes coordinated to a certain degree in order to perform. So why then do we only call field or parade drumming rudimental and not other forms of drumming? Mainly because marching percussion (usually) focuses more on rudiments as the building block ingredients for their arrangements. Therefore the case can be made that field drumming is the most highly evolved form of two-hand drumming* due to the competitive drive for the percussion arrangements to become more coordinative (rudiment) oriented. If the study of drum rudiments helps improve coordination, then every percussion idiom should incorporate rudiments into their practice as all percussion idioms require coordinated movement in order to produce a percussive sound.
Field drumming also utilizes visual enhancements to the arrangements to a greater degree than other drumming idioms in order to increase the general effect, or entertainment factor, to the audience. Stick tricks meant to enhance the visual aspect of a performance are not innate, ingrained, or hereditary within the performer(s). A flawless execution of any visual requires practice and coordinative effort. Therefore even stick tricks can be considered “rudimental”; the degree of practice and effort varies based on the difficulty of the visual (movement).
Unless playing with a single stick, drummers must coordinate their limbs in order to produce a coherent percussive sound. If visuals are employed, they too must be synchronized with movements learned and committed to memory. If coordinative movement of the muscles is involved, no matter the type of drumming, then it is rudimental. The only difference between the various percussive idioms is the degree of coordination; the more coordinative movement needed to execute a rhythmic or visual pattern, the more rudimental the pattern**.
*If rudimental drumming is the study of coordination, and playing the drum set requires coordinative movements of all 4 limbs, then rudimental drumming can be extended to all 4 limbs.
As with the hands, the degree of rudimental development via all 4 limbs varies.
**The English definition of the word rudiment means the basic or elementary principles of some thing. The alphabet is the rudiments of language and numbers are the rudiments of math. In drumming an arrangement is MORE rudimental if more rudiments are employed, thus requiring more coordinative effort.