Because rudiments are “the language of drums” – just like our alphabet helps power English as our primary language or scales guide the learning process on brass, string or woodwind instruments. Without rudiments, there is no baseline barometer for playing any type of percussion instrument.
Today, there are 40 common rudiments as agreed to by the Percussive Arts Society (PAS). In 1979, the PAS Marching Percussion Committee appointed the PAS International Drum Rudiment Committee to act as the governing body in the revision and standardization of the previous 26 rudiments. A new listing of 40 International Drum Rudiments was adopted by PAS in 1984 and included drum corps, orchestral, European, and contemporary drum rudiments.
However, the genesis of rudiments actually dates back to the morning of April 17, 1775, according to graduate student Eric Alan Chandler in his 1990 Louisiana State University dissertation paper, “when drummer William Diamond was given orders by Captain John Parker in Lexington to sound his drum (no doubt a field snare crafted by Noble & Cooley Drum Co. of Granville, MA) to warn that the British were coming. At the Battle of Yorktown, which was the virtual end of the Revolutionary War, a British drummer from the 23rd Royal Fuseliers stepped up on a redoubt and beat the Parley, which stopped the firing. This signified the desire for a conference with the enemy. The fact that the Revolutionary War started and ended with the beat of a drum indicates the instruments’ historical importance.” Essentially, rudiments and drumming helped end the war.
For those who possess little knowledge of drumming rudiments, they are simply a series of left and right hand snare drumming command signals (like the famous Paradiddle RLRR-LRLL) coming in several different families and sequences meant to strengthen coordination and improve muscle memory. They also help students develop an early understanding of sight reading and note values.
But they are a lot more than that today with countless stick control method books written on the topic. When applied to the full drum kit, rudiments take on a whole new meaning and application.
Everything we play on the drum set is a simple or complex array of different rudiments played in partiality or as a whole together. So you can see why mastering them first will make you a better drummer. In fact, I’ve found those who don’t learn rudiments and don’t practice them for life, hit a wall in their progression on the instrument and that can even lead to injury from poor technique. That’s because rudiments are meant to help drummers teach their own body how to play. It’s called muscle memory.
Learn your rudiments.