This week: Five Long Minutes of Drags! For most pipe band drummers drags are one of the most difficult rudiments to execute properly. Drags are composed of a principal note (big note) and a two smaller notes (two 32nd grace notes). The drag that pipe band drummers play is called a "closed" drag but is different from a closed drag played by symphony and drum kit players. In a symphonic band or orchestra, the two 32nd note are played in one of two ways: "closed" or "open". In an "open" drag, the two 32nd notes are played as a quick double on one hand and the principal note is played on the opposite hand resulting in a "B-D-Dup" sound. In a "closed" drag the two 32nd notes are played as a "buzz" just before the principal note resulting in a "Zzzz-up" sound.
The closed drag in the pipe band drumming world is written the same as its symphonic cousin but the difference is found in its execution. The pipe band drumming drag is composed of a principal note and a "dead" stroke (if you are unfamiliar with the dead stroke check out the video "The Seven Foundation Strokes" on PipeBandDrummer's YouTube channel). If executed properly, a drag should sound like a flam but with slightly more "mass". If the sound of a flam is described as a "flip" sound, drags should make more of a "plup" sound.
The key to a successful drag is the execution of the dead stroke. A dead stroke should be placed on the drum, not played. It is extremely quiet and requires a great deal of control and technical finesse. Before playing a dead stroke, your stick should be no more than one inch off the drum. If the stick is any higher than one inch the dead stroke will start to buzz.
In a pipe band drum score, drags are meant to be played quietly 100% of the time, no exceptions. Therefore it is of utmost importance that the principal note of the drag is also played quietly. Whereas the preparation for a flam is "one stick high, one stick low", the preparation for a drag is "one stick slightly higher than the low one" (the "low one" being the dead stroke). When drags are first introduced to beginners, letting them know that their drags will always be played quietly should save a lot of relearning down the line.
The drags in the video below are recorded in the way I would first show beginners. The high stick is quite high in order to familiarize the player with the height difference between the principal note and the dead stroke more easily. It is also important to notice what happens after each drag and how that differs from the flam. After playing a flam, it is always important to switch the stick heights right away in order to facilitate the execution of the next one (so they can be played "hand to hand"). Because drags are usually played in isolation, there isn't as much need to switch the hands immediately after playing each one. Instead, you will notice a slight pause at the end of each drag before the "high" stick is raised for the next one.
Beginners are always buzzing their dead strokes. The "placing" of the dead stroke needs to be practiced on its own and it should be emphasized that "placing" the stick on the drum requires little to no force. Any tightness in the grip or excess force used for the dead stroke will always result in a buzzy dead stroke. Beginners are always amazed at exactly how quiet the dead stroke should be (they never believe me) but their confusion is put to rest the first time they hear the dead stroke on a drum--it's always quite audible!
The principal stroke of the drag must also be practiced quietly from the beginning. This is not always an option for beginners as they need to get used to the "one stick high, one stick low" preparation for their drags and some exaggeration in the height of the "high" stick can help to get them on the right path. However, very soon after learning the drag, the emphasis should be on controlling it's volume and keeping the principle note low enough so that the volume of the drag remains quiet.
Sometimes, especially when first learning drags, a drummer's high stick will hit before the dead stroke. This problem is easily solved by breaking down the drag, then separating it into its two component parts. Practicing the dead stroke followed by the principal note (with a gap in between each note) should solve this issue. Use the same "breakdown and separate" strategy to solve the "flat drag" issue (when the two notes of the drag hit simultaneously).
Have fun practicing your drags and try your best to find five minutes to practice them. Next week: Five Long Minutes of Cut Fours!