The Myth of the Rudiments on Drum Set

OK, I come out of a heavy rudimental/drum corps back ground. I spent a lot of time in my younger days shedding on the rudiments and marching. Snare drumming was a big interest of mine. I marched in high school, university, and drum corps. But you don't really need to be up on the rudiments to play drum set, which has a completely different musical context than marching. Ringo, Charlie Watts, and Levon Helm all had great careers without working up their ratamacues. Sure, there are drummers like Steve Gadd, who comes from a rudimental back ground, but he's more an exception then the rule.

I'm not saying the rudiments are unnecessary, but unless you are going into drum corps, or are just really into the rudiments, there's not a big need to shed on them to play drum set. Now I believe in the rudiments, as there is a lot of benefit to be derived from mastering them. The rudiments are very sound and fundamental building blacks of good drumming technique. They are a great way to really get your hands in shape, and I spend time working on them with my drum set students. But I don't over emphasize all 40. I have never had the need to play a Ratamacue, or a Pataflafla at a gig. And if I stretch them out some way to make them fit a jazz or rock context, are they really still rudiments?

I remember the late Joe Morello—a master jazz drummer and rudimental expert—published a book in 1967 called, Rudimental Jazz (which I have here somewhere). He went through the (then) 26 original rudiments and applied them to the drum set. While some of them fit naturally, others had to be so stretched out to fit the context, that you really had to use your imagination to see them fitting at all. The point being, that drum corps and drum set are two very different animals.

Now there are some rudiments that apply to drum set without any major modification. I typically use5/7/9-stroke rolls a lot. The same with Flams & Drags (Ruffs). Paradiddles work well and are often the basis of rock, jazz, or Latin beats—just play them between snare & bass drum instead of both hands (even drummers who have no idea what a rudiment is are playing paradiddles). I also tend to use theSwiss Army Triplet a lot on toms (thank you Ronald Shannon Jackson & Ginger Baker for that). But that's about it. Using any other rudiments tends to be an extreme stretch of imagination and not really a practical application.

So I'm not saying to not practice any, or all of the rudiments. I'm just saying that you can have an active and successful career playing drum set without ever studying, working on, and applying rudiments to your playing. In fact, there are many fine drummers out there who are basically self taught (autodidact for my Euro friends) and have no idea about the rudiments. That said, learning them, and working on them, is definitely beneficial to your technique (I still work out of my Pratt book and others). 

What do you think of the rudiments in a drum set context?

~ MB


  1. I agree 120%

    I've been teaching drums since the late '70s and I find the emphasis on rudiments can sometimes be detrimental. Band directors look at their answer book and expect the drummers to play along (forget that the poor drummers are rarely taught how to play properly). Kids are expected to learn paradiddles when they can barely play RLRL evenly, in tempo, and fast. I'm a HUGE proponent of learning the single stroke roll early.

  2. I could go on and on, so I won't :-)

    1. With a name like that, I'm sure you could. 😉


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