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.
This week’s drum blog was supposed to be about my wonderful experiences having just wrapped up an extended “show choir” gig on Sunday with Gilbert Players Theater. It was a cabaret involving six awesome singers. I played drum set in the pit band trio. My original lead was supposed to be something like this: Dr. Elizabeth Wrenn-Johnson (Beth) would be pleased to know I’m still doing exactly what she first gave me the opportunity and training to do many years ago.
Today is a sad day, though. Dr. Johnson died yesterday at age 67, God rest her soul. She was an amazing and talented woman who gave the gift of music to countless kids and adults in my hometown of Auburn, MA. I’d like to dedicate this blog to her memory and also today’s Trinity big band gig, previously scheduled coincidentally, at Auburn Senior Center.
As my single most fondest childhood memory, Dr. Johnson discovered me as a struggling trombonist practicing hard on my true love – the drum set – while playing in a practice room (closet) at Auburn High School. I still vividly remember her slowly opening that closet door, saying “Who is that drummer I hear”….. It was like she was opening the door to my future life, which today is mostly music thanks to her encouragement. As a lanky, shy, freckle-faced 13-year-old, I was waiting to be discovered, heard and inspired after putting in years of dedicated work behind the drum kit in private practice, lessons and junior high bands. Dr. Johnson “hired” me on the spot for her rapidly expanding chorus and jazz show choirs and sub acapella groups. At that time, she was superintendent of music for the entire Auburn School District, which is almost unheard of in today’s “arts come last” budgeting priorities. It was a golden era for music in Auburn Public Schools. Beth believed in live pit bands instead of pre-canned tape.
Dr. Johnson essentially gave me my very first chance on the drum set with several bands when all other traditional ensemble positions were filled by older drummers. I never forgot her kindness. Those teenage music memories are endless – from the many district and state competitions we attended – and sometimes won – to the endless after school rehearsals, parties and school concerts, and all the friends we made along the way.
Cancer is a terrible disease. Beth did not deserve to pass on this way. But it’s comforting to know that her music will live on in the thousands of children she inspired like me. Dr. Johnson was an amazing teacher, administrator, musician, pianist, vocalist, and mother and will be missed terribly.
Beth’s obit appears here: http://www.auburnmassdaily.com/2018/04/elizabeth-d-dearden-wrenn-johnson-auburn-educator-realtor/
I’ve found many of my new students don’t really know how to set up a drum kit (or their parents as well). They buy a kit at the music store and plunk it down in the bedroom, only guessing as to proper arrangement. And there the set sits in all its poorly arranged glory for years to come.
Next to learning rudiments, it’s the single most important drum lesson students will ever attempt to master. An improperly set up kit can lead to bad technique and even injury. At a bare minimum, students most certainly won’t play poorly arranged drums nearly as well as their full potential.
Given most of my own students own real drum kits, it makes sense to learn the proper way to set up and break down a kit. And the best way to do that is well….. set up and break down your set often. Realizing most young students won’t have to setup and breakdown their kits until they join a band with rehearsal space and gigs away from home, this is where the real technique concern enters the equation. An erratically set up drum kit can literally sit in a student’s bedroom for years before that kid ever attempts the breakdown and re-setting up process. A live gig is not the place to practice.
So what are the major red flag warnings for bad kit arrangements to look out for, and what is the best process for setting up and breaking down?
First of all, the height and location of your drum seat or throne really determines everything else and is why I always set it up first in conjunction with my bass drum pedal and hi-hat stand (notwithstanding your drop carpet so the kit does not move while playing it). In my opinion (and there are differing viewpoints on this topic), the throne should be centered smack in the dead center of your drum kit arrangement. The height of your throne should allow both human legs to slightly angle downward when both feet are on the bass drum(s) and hi-hat pedals. That’s why I set up the throne with both pedals at the same time.
One additional reason is to see if your throne is too close to any back wall or staging. Once placed atop your drop carpet, sit in your throne and swivel the seat side to side with your elbows extended outward to see if anything gets in the way. Much better for that process to happen now when you can simply inch a throne a few inches forward then to have to move an entire drum set because you put the drum chair in last.
That said, I see plenty of drummers with no downward angle of their legs who instead prefer a straight horizontal alignment. I can’t honestly tell you which angle is better. All I know is that my legs are always slightly angled downward toward the pedals from the throne. By all means, don’t ever have your legs angled upward from the throne toward your pedals.
After the throne and hi-hat/bass pedals are set, you should attach your bass drum to the pedal already positioned on the floor. Top touring pros will tell you they don’t point their bass drums perfectly straight looking outward and instead angle them slightly offset right so that both pedal feet have a similar linear angle. I tend to agree.
Next, the snare drum should be positioned center between both pedals obviously behind the bass drum, which means it will be slightly left of your throne’s true center position. I try to get my snare stand as close to the bass drum edge hoop as possible. Many drummers slightly tilt the snare stand basket that holds the snare toward them while others prefer a straight horizontal angle of the top snare rims. Either angle is fine. Do what seems most comfortable. My thinking on snare stand height is the top hoop should be perpendicular to your waistline or belly button. That’s just a good rule of thumb. A snare stand that is set too low or too high can create drumming mechanics and navigational problems.
Now on to the toms. Which toms should be set up first? I feel the very next drum that should be added to your kit is the floor tom. Why? Because it has a very important relationship to the height and position of your snare drum. Everybody’s different, but I generally set the height of my floor tom a little bit lower than that of my snare. Having the height of your floor tom set above that of your snare will result in dropped sticks and bloody knuckles.
Next, rack toms should set up fairly easily at this point if you followed the proper kit arrangement steps, but there are a few things to keep in mind. If you’re using two mounted rack toms above your bass drum, make sure they aren’t elevated too high above the bass drum. General rule of thumb is to have bottom of tom hoops or bottom heights about 4-6 inches above your snare top and angled slightly in toward each other for easier navigation. Again, this is a matter of opinion but toms set too high or angled tend to result in dropped sticks, bloody knuckles and, well, you get the point.
Finally, I add in the crash cymbals, ride cymbal and any percussion accessory hardware. I don’t put crash or ride cymbals on the stands until after the stands themselves are placed where you actually want the cymbal to hang above your kit. Why adjust things twice? As for height or angles of the cymbals, drummers are all over the map on this one. I find the lower cymbals are hung with a decent angle downward toward your drum chair results in easier and more fluid playing. My cymbal heights on average are about 6-8 inches above any top drum head. Any don’t be afraid to hang cymbals partially over certain drums to get them closer to you. Many newer drummers have a tendency to put cymbals far and away from any drums, which is really opposite of what you should do.
The last thing to do is play your kit and refine the arrangement.
Hopefully, these tips can help you envision your own proper kit setup.
I once had a very talented Berklee graduate jazz guitarist give me the total thumbs down while in the middle of playing a Coltrane tune live at a public event. He made darn sure I saw him as he gave me a thumbs up followed by the big thumbs down.
We found ourselves at a corporate gig. At break, he told me my timing had slowed down during his solo or bridge on one or two fast swing tunes. He probably was right, but it was by far the rudest thing I had ever experienced during a gig, particularly since he had actually approved of my playing on the same tunes at a prior library gig. We all have off nights. Suffice to say, I never got invited to play with those musicians again. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
The story here is why did I slow down. I can play jazz fairly well and have for many years both by reading it and with my ears. In fact, the Chair of Berklee’s jazz piano studies dept. even told me so at a freelance gig once. That’s a pretty hefty endorsement. Despite a guitarist nearly half my age being disrespectful on stage about it, it’s still my fault. When I screw up with time or anything musically – and we all do – I always reassess what happened and how I can improve. At that particular gig – and not to make excuses – we were crammed upstairs basically in a hallway playing down to a bunch of people’s heads who could care less about jazz music and were celebrating the opening of some corporate product like windows or something. I honestly forget.
It was such a crammed space for instruments or sound projection that I didn’t feel right playing the whole night. It was like performing in a closet. The drums were stuffed in a corner of the hallway and we all played basically in a straight line, which was a ridiculous setup by the event organizers. We could not really see each other. I could not hear anything except saxophone. Still my fault.
I took it all in stride and re-examined my timing over the next few months to make sure a bad habit had not crept into my playing. There is an ebb and flow to timing on the drums and in music in general. Without that freedom, music would sound like a robot – and unfortunately already does in many of today’s loop-centric pop recordings. That said, we as drummers need to maintain solid tempo despite its inherent fluctuations. We need to know when to drag it back or rush it, paying heed not to lose control of the origin tempo.
There are many jazz tunes where the starting beats per minute is not how the song ends or solo transitions, and it was not due to a time signature change. It was due to jazz being about improv and responding to the energy of the music presented at that given moment.
The antagonist guitarist obviously knows this already as a Berklee grad. What he doesn’t know is that I used his thumbs down gesture as motivation to further refine my timing by working with a metronome regularly again, and also counting subdivisions during song passages. I made it a point to get accurate metronome BPM markings written down for all songs with other bands I play in. I started recording every gig and important practices for later critique. I’m not sure if my timing improved because it was already solid to begin with. But it served as a great reminder.
In life, the best thing to do is turn a negative into a positive. That rude Berklee guitarist helped me become a better drummer. Sometimes the best thing to do is listen to constructive criticism and then take action.
Do you really think purely video-based drum lessons such as with Canada-based Drumeo are the best method for private drum set instruction?
To its credit, Drumeo does claim that having a private, in-person instructor in combination with Drumeo online lessons is advantageous. Perhaps.
But then in the very next section of their latest promotion linked far below out of fairness to them, they completely attack all private in-person drum instructors with a $197 year-round drum lesson offer. The average cost for weekly private, in person drum lessons during the school year is about $1200-$1500.
So how can us lowly private, in-person drum set instructors compete?
It would take me at least one year of full-time work to develop a video-based lesson program on the scale of Drumeo’s as I am a one-drummer show. It’s my career and it has to be multi-faceted in order to earn a living. There are also only so many prospective drum students in any given market. Losing 5-10 percent of that market to online video lessons is a killer.
If you are spending $197 a year at Drumeo for basically the same checkmark program offerings as a $1500-a-year private, in-person drum instructor, then what’s the catch? Sorry, local drum set instructor and working musician who lives in or near your community. You lose.
But there is a catch you should really consider (and it’s a big one): Drumeo has thousands and thousands of active video students worldwide.
I personally have 12 per week between my home studio and a school where I teach, not including my group djembe drum circle work.
I find many video teaching methods aren’t personable, the quality of the lesson isn’t very good, and above all they rarely if ever are point specific to any one student’s actual musical needs in any real micro way.
For example, can Drumeo help a student prepare for an upcoming theater pit band gig by going through that student’s charts one page at a time – slowly – and help them understand notation? They probably say they can, but they really can’t because they have to cater lesson programming to the group dynamic. It’s a business model based on supply and demand. And they still have to pay all their top tier teachers and support staff money as well. So $197 per student looks far less appealing when you consider how many of those single student programs Drumeo actually has to sell in order to make ends meet.
You get what you pay for in life.
Drumeo may have some of the top drummers (many of whom I greatly admire) teaching group video lessons that may or may not apply to you, and offer very flashy website attractions and all sorts of big names and major product endorsements, but they don’t have your best interests in mind.
I can promise you the personal feedback and passion for each and every student is not there with Drumeo nor will it ever be. It’s like suddenly flipping a switch and your kid goes to school one day only to find giant flat screen tv videos have replaced the actual human teachers in the classroom.
Think long and hard about in-person private music lessons and don’t be tempted by the flashy video lesson programs like Drumeo’s. The reality is a lot of those same video lesson themes can already be found online for free.
Below are four basic and proven drum set limb coordination tips.
1 – Count Aloud and Understand Subdivisions: There is one whole note, two half notes and four (4) quarter notes in one measure of 4/4 time. Wholes and Quarter Notes are both counted “1,2,3,4″ in a steady rhythm. Half notes are counted 1-2. Remember, it takes two half notes to make one measure of 4/4 time. There are eight (8) eighth notes in one measure of 4/4 time. Eighths are counted “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”, in a steady rhythm exactly twice as fast as you counted the 1/4 (quarter) notes. Double the speed of eight notes are 1/16th (sixteenth) notes, and they are counted “1 e and ah, 2 e and ah, 3 e and ah, 4 e and ah. Counting subdivisions aloud or to yourself while playing helps your timing and understanding of how song structure and basic notation works.
2 – Four-limb coordination daily exercise: The exercise that follows is easier to play if you’re sitting at a drum set, but if that’s not possible, just grab a pair of drumsticks and a metal folding chair and place it on a hard floor. (Any tiled or hardwood floor is ideal.) If you’re using a chair, play on the right chair leg for your cymbal, the left leg for your snare, tap your right foot on the floor for your bass drum, and tap your left on the floor for your hi-hats. Start by playing quarter notes with your right foot floor or bass drum. While your right foot is doing that steadily, play eighth notes against it with your left foot hi-hat or left foot floor. This is two-way coordination. Now play eighth note triplets with your left hand chair leg or stick against the other two ongoing foot patterns. This is three-way coordination. Next comes the tricky part. With your right hand, play whole and half notes on the ride or right leg chair. Evolve that to more intricate rhythms that don’t copy any of the other three limbs’ ongoing patterns. Your four limbs are now playing different subdivisions all at the same time. Cool.
3 – Sight-reading quickens muscle memory: Start with practicing short 1-4 measure coordination-patterns on the drums while reading notated drum chart music. If you do this, you will progress rapidly. It is easy to learn sequences of two or three “limb-combinations” and store them in your muscle memory. Then, when you attempt longer patterns, your muscle memory will help you out and it won’t feel impossible.
4 – Timing is everything: Play along to favorite bands’ and artists’ songs and with a metronome using earphones. Break those songs down into smaller compartments or sections at first. Learn each section at a time before progressing to the next part.
“It seems there are too many drummers whose work is of rough-and-ready variety and whose technical proficiency suffers in comparison with that of the players of other instruments.
– George Lawrence Stone
This week I challenged myself as a drum set instructor to then challenge my students to get off the drum set and sit at a snare drum for 45 minutes with a notated book on stick control and rudiments.
Many great drum books came to mind for this lesson, including the legendary “Stick Control” snare drum book I studied as a kid originally published in 1963 by the great George B. Stone. Today, I particularly enjoy teaching “Reading Syncopation and Beyond” by Joel Rothman published in 2010.
I selected Page 32 from Rothman’s book as a starting point to gauge where my students are at in terms of stick control, dynamics, rudimentary abilities and general knowledge of musical terms, theory and chart markings.
What a shock this lesson came to many of my students, despite me reinforcing the basics at every lesson. I discovered they just are not putting enough emphasis or time into mastering Rudiments, which are the language of drums, as well as sight-reading and basic stick control methods that separate a good drummer from a poor one.
From just one page of Rothman’s book, my students learned how to count most all the subdivisions, got a primer on all musical notation, dotted notes, learned many of the dynamic markings and names as well as repeats, Codas, accents, and crescendos, and explored different time signatures. From one single page! And you know what? After 5- 10 minutes of hard work and listening, they all started to smile and really enjoyed the refresher course. I made tem not only count the measures where it was displayed, but also the bars where no counting numeration was listed.
If you want to drastically improve and reinforce your own drumming, I highly recommend you taking the time each week to master one page for either of these books. It’s worth the investment in time.
– Tim Kane is a professional drum set instructor, performer and drum circle facilitator.
I always wanted to go to music school and was encouraged to by my former high school band directors. But my parents and family just did not support it at the time yet music was basically all I did as a kid. It was a constant head scratcher and my chosen college track in writing never really seemed like the right fit. Music always felt right. The lesson here is young students need as much encouragement from their parents as they do from private music instructors about pursuing their passions in life. Failure to fail or to recognize your true talents can result in being stuck in the wrong career like I was for far too many years.
After 20 years spent as a newspaper journalist while endlessly moonlighting in music, I began switching gears back in 2005 after my young boys got a little older. Truth be told, I do not possess an advanced Masters or Phd in music teaching or performance. I do have a minor in music and a BA in professional writing, however, from Fitchburg State University. I played there in the collegiate concert and jazz bands under the direction of Conductor Frank Patterson for several years before being whisked off to the big Boston area clubs tour in a popular original alt. rock band, The Love Dogs. I spent many of my college nights and weekends jamming and creating with other musicians – just like they do at music schools. I always have loved playing in original music bands as they are the epitome of why you should play live music: to create and improvise.
Life has a funny way of putting people back on the right paths. What I feel I can bring to the table today as a live drummer, drum circle leader, and private instrumental instructor is a vast jazz, concert and jam band performance portfolio dating back more than 30 years that never wavered or collected dust. I am the type of musician and teacher who loves to perform live and always has. Over the past 10 years, I have built a respected and demonstrated music instructional business by partnering with local schools and parents in homes, specializing in jazz and rock drum set and group djembe drum circles. I also teach beginner trombone mostly to my own son right now, which I played throughout much of my younger student years along with drums right through college.
I also possess a broad understanding of music composition and theory as an active songwriter in bands and with my own studio compositions on piano.
What I’m trying to convey today in this blog post is that wisdom, life experiences and creativity also count a lot in music and teaching regardless of what that piece of paper says you earned. This belief is meant to take nothing away from prospective music degree seekers or many of my fellow musician friends who have earned such advanced degrees. The truth is many of those same well respected musicians and teachers have personally mentioned to me that I am a talented drummer and naturally-gifted teacher meant for this career track.
My point is skillsets earned through life experience can sometimes bear equal value. Make more exceptions. For example, the experiences I honed as a hiring and training news editor and intern supervisor in the newspaper industry for 15 years count and serve me well as a drum teacher today.
These many experiences combined with my life-long passion and active pursuit of music can’t only be taught in college. That’s just one pathway. It can also be mastered on the job and in life as someone who switched careers and never looked back.
Life is good.
By Tim Kane
Although my New Year’s resolution is to tighten up my timing and tempo control, drummers should also strive to learn how to sight-read musical charts, even though most will never use that skill live.
Luckily, I was taught to sight-read musical notation live as a young student in grammar school when I played trombone. That early Bass clef knowledge carried over to drums and continued on straight through my college jazz band years. But not everyone is a schooled musician, or even wants to be. The fact is drummers really don’t need to sight-read in most musical settings today, unlike wind, string, piano and brass musicians. After my college band experiences ended, I did not read a single note for more than a decade. I played everything by ear.
My point is not so much having to learn to sight read in order to play in a successful band – unless of course you plan to enter the music industry professionally and attend college where sight reading is a pre-requisite. For most part-time and hobbyist drummers out there – and many full-timers, too – you probably will never be asked to read a chart or define how a 5/4 time signature breaks down.
I stress with my own students that learning how to sight read has a lot more to do with opening up new avenues of musical expression across the entire drum set; discovering cool new rhythms and patterns you would never have played without sight reading them first; and providing yourself with an instant framework to focus yourself during practice. In my opinion, learning to sight-read is as important as playing along to your favorite bands and songs or performing live with other musicians. Your ears and eyes are intrinsically connected.
HOW TO LEARN SIGHT READING
The easiest and best way to learn to sight read, if you don’t want to go out and hire a private drum instructor, is to buy a good music theory and composition book or CD, and definitely check out national drum magazines such as DRUM! and Modern Drummer. Those publications always carry great how-to-read exercises and notation breakdowns in each edition.
Once you understand note and rest values and the mechanics of how they apply to measures, time, dynamics and all of your drum and cymbal “instruments”, the best way to master them is to use your ears. Take several of your favorite recordings and transcribe the drum parts for them on music staff paper (manuscript). Then, ask a musician friend who can sight-read well to grade them. Try to work drum chart transcription – or at least live sight reading – into your regular practice regimen. And if you get stuck when reading music, slow it down to a tempo that’s more manageable or seek help in an online drum forum.
And if more advanced chart reading skills just aren’t in your future, consider simply learning the meaning of quarter, eighth, sixteenth and 32nd notes, counting measures in time, and the basics of song composition with regard to verse, bridge, and chorus construction. If you can even just talk music theory lingo a bit, it improves your opportunities as a drummer not only from a performance perspective, but also in terms of being able to offer meaningful feedback and ideas to other musicians about their arrangements and original compositions.
Remember, it’s rare today for a rock band leader to hand you a drum chart at a gig or practice and ask you to sight read it verbatim. Beyond being prepared for something that rarely occurs for drummers outside of recording studios or at more intricate jazz and concert band gigs, learning to sight-read just makes you a more complete and smarter drummer. Happy New Year!