Respecting the Fundamentals (Part I): Rudiments Q & A

Since I began playing drums my teachers have impressed upon me the importance of practising rudiments. I learned the basic pipe band drumming rudiments early on: singles, doubles, paradiddles, rolls, flams and drags. Later, as a percussion major in university I was introduced to the 40 P.A.S. (Percussive Arts Society) Rudiments and was tasked with learning them all. It was quite helpful to have a definitive list to which I could refer. This list made it easy to practice as I could check off the rudiments I was familiar with and work harder on those that needed extra effort. When I returned to pipe bands after a twenty year break I discovered there was still no definitive online list of rudiments for pipe band drummers. This was one of the driving forces that led me to create and the list of the 50 Essential Pipe Band Drumming Rudiments. Even though most drummers understand the need for rudimental practice, many questions remain. So, let's start with a little "Rudiment Q & A":

Should You Practice Rudiments Every Day?
YES! If you want to be truly great, you should make a big effort to include rudiments in your daily practice routine.

How Many Rudiments Should You Practice Each Day?
This depends on how much time you have to practice. My rule is to split my practice time in half. If I have twenty minutes of practice time I spend ten minutes working on rudiments and ten minutes on drum scores.

Is It More Important to Practice Rudiments or Scores?
Both rudiments and drum scores are important to work on but I always start my practice with rudiments. It is important not to put the cart before the horse and remember that mastery of the rudiments will allow you to play any drum score. On the other hand, mastering one drum score will only allow practice of the rudiments contained within it.

Why Are Rudiments Important?
Rudiments are important because they build your repertoire of movement. A drummer's repertoire of movement is the collection of movements she/he can execute with facility and precision on a drum. Every drummer has strengths and weaknesses in their own repertoire of movement. My weaknesses include swiss triplets played on the left hand, right handed ratamacues and drag paradiddles. Ugh!! If, however, you manage to learn all the rudiments and can execute them at any speed with control and accuracy, you will find that nothing in a drum score will ever cause you difficulty.

How Much Time Should I Spend on Rudiments?
I always try to devote at least ten minutes to rudiment practice every day. Setting aside time every day (even a small amount) is more important than the total amount of time. Daily practice creates momentum and you start to see results within the first week, even with only five minutes a day. If you only have five minutes, spend that time on rudiments first before working on your drum scores.

How Fast Do the Rudiments Have to Be?
The faster the better. However, make sure your rudiments are executed correctly before speeding them up. If a rudiment can't be played well slowly it's not going to get better as the speed increases!

Rudiments Are Boring! How Do I Make Them More Interesting to Practice?
When learning a new rudiment I always practice to a metronome to check my accuracy. Set the metronome to a slow tempo at first then gradually increase the speed as your comfort level with the rudiment increases. The extra challenge of playing to a metronome helps make the process more interesting and has the added benefit of improving your timing. Practising along with your favourite song also helps decrease the "boring factor". Tempos of popular songs are just as steady as those of a metronome and are much more entertaining than a simple "click".

How Do I Know I'm Getting Better at the Rudiments?
When practising rudiments tracking your progress is of paramount importance! Use a practice chart to keep track of the speed of your rudiments and use the "tap" feature of your metronome to log your tempos at the beginning of each week. Seeing your speed increase over time will keep you motivated! It is always important to record your rudiment tempos at the speed where you can correctly execute ten in a row. Don't "lie to yourself" about the tempo by playing only two or three at high speed (much easier to do than ten in a row).

Once I Learn All 50 Rudiments Which Ones Should I Work On the Most?
When I'm choosing rudiments to work on I always trust my gut. When I think about right handed ratamacues I feel a little bit queasy. This is a sure sign I should work on them! If you're practising a rudiment and it's feeling comfortable, it's probably time to move on to one that induces a bit more nausea.

Will I Ever Get to the Point Where I Don't Have to Practice Rudiments Any More?
The short answer here is NO!! When talking with my students about practising the basics, I always tell them about basketball icon Ray Allen--a shooting guard in the NBA. Ray Allen currently holds the record for the most three-point shots made in NBA history and that is due in large part to his now legendary pre-game routine. Before every game from 1996 to 2014 he would shoot 200 three-point shots. He would jump the same way, follow through the same way, and shoot from the same spots on the court. He would also practice different approaches to his shot including coming off screens, having his shot contested or receiving a pass for a "catch and shoot". Ray Allen respected the fundamentals of three point shooting and he demonstrated that respect by putting in the hard work. Ray Allen was not the best natural shooter in NBA history but he will go down as one of the most relentlessly hardworking players the league has ever seen. Similarly, every top pipe band drummer has a routine that includes rudiments (the fundamentals). Great players respect the fact that rudiments are an essential part of daily practice and devote many hours each week working to improving them. Even when great drummers reach the highest heights of playing they never stop working on the rudiments, just as Ray Allen never stopped improving his three-point shot.

Next week I'll be discussing effective ways to track your progress with the rudiments and I'll be sending out a couple of practice charts to members of our mailing list. Sign up to to get yours! Have fun with the rudiments and Happy Drumming!

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