Electronic Composition
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What are rudiments and do I need to know them?

If you’ve been around a group of drummers for more than a few seconds you’ve probably heard some strange new words. Words like “paradiddle,” “flam,” “patafla-fla,” and “ratamacue.” If this has happened to you, the good news is you didn’t mishear them. They were talking about rudiments!

Rudiments are basic hand to hand combinations that drummers study in order to further develop their technique and performing abilities. Some rudiments have unique sounds, while others are supposed to be indistinguishable from each other. Sometimes students draw parallels between scales and arpeggios and rudiments. This comparison works on the surface level in that young musicians study scales and arpeggios much like how drummers study rudiments, but a more apt comparison might be the study of intervals.

You’ll remember from our previous lessons that intervals are combined into melodies and chords to create new musical possibilities, in the same way, rudiments are combined to create interesting sounds and rhythms.

Do you need to learn your rudiments?

There’s not a great reason to learn all of the rudiments as a composer unless you are a percussionist yourself or you are writing a percussion ensemble or music for a drumline. However, it is helpful to know a few of the basic rudiments that will help inform your percussion writing.

  • Roll rudiments – This is a large group of rudiments centered around the concept of using the rebound of the stick to get two or more notes in a single stroke. Composers should be aware that drum rolls exist and are notated with three diagonal lines across the stem of a note. Typically, it’s left to the percussionist to interpret the finer details like how open or closed the roll is.
  • Flams – Flams and flam rudiments make use of two notes played very closely together. They’re notated in the same way grace notes are notated where a single small note with a slash through the stem precedes a regular sized note. The name flam is an onomatopoeia for the sound it creates.
  • Drags – Drags are similar to flams except the first stoke uses multiple bounces like in the roll rudiments. They are notated with two or more grace notes beamed together before the main note.

The other rudiments are fun to study, but in most cases are more specific instructions than a standard orchestral or band percussionist need to accurately perform the part.

Click here to see a list of Vic Firth’s 40 essential rudiments.