Try this: Tap your right hand on your leg. Now tap your left hand. Repeat and check it out: You've just played a Single Stroke Roll, and now you're a drummer. Try it one more time and pay attention to the sound of it. It's a pretty even back and forth and a nice, solid sound.
What if you tried tapping your right hand twice on your leg followed by your left twice? Repeat. Not so bad, right? You just played a Double Stroke Roll, and now you're double the drummer. I'm willing to bet that if you play it again and pay attention to how it sounds that there's a difference in both its feel and sound when compared with the Singles.
With that in mind, indulge me for a second! There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, and we all know just how many ways to use them. We can create words, phrases, sentences, jokes and present complex ideas. Much like how we use our alphabet, drummers can use rudiments to express musical ideas and combine them however they want. They can make anything from small musical words to extensive, complex phrases. Even something as simple as playing Singles versus Doubles can affect the tone and character of a musical phrase.
Rudiments allow a drummer to do just that. We can take small sticking patterns and combine them in any order or iteration imaginable. Add dynamics, breaks, note values, and drum/cymbal choices, and the possibilities of what one could say musically are endless!
On top of that, we can add that there are forty standard rudiments and the possibilities are even more endless.
Forty of anything is a lot to learn, but we can boil it down to five basic groupings:
1. Single Strokes
2. Double Strokes
3. Diddles (combinations of 1 and 2)
For some students, going through these groupings can be a necessary evil. If they're working in a drumline, they'll most likely learn all forty and then some. In addition, there are hybrid rudiments, each with its own funny name (like Egg Beaters or Cheese Back Flip). Chances are they're going to love going through different patterns and phrases that can make solos and group numbers not only musically entertaining, but other patterns can allow for small snippets of time to add in the visual element as well.
Then there are drum set players. There are a lot of instruments within their chosen instrument to learn (snare, bass, toms, cymbals, etc.), not to mention coordination for all four limbs to work out! So a lot is going on at the beginning of their musical journey. Some students are sponges and soak in everything, but often, most just want to rock out and aren't all that psyched about these simple patterns.
I fell into that “just wanting to rock” category when I first started. I learned the singles and doubles, but it broke my brain when I came to the paradiddle pattern. I begrudgingly learned it and didn't use it for years, but as my musical tastes changed and grew, I started to find them all quite handy. Even though a group of 16th notes count the same, changing the hand patterns can make them sound completely different! If I were starting a conversation, I'd liken it to this:
1. Singles – R L R L R L R L – How are you doing today?
2. Doubles – RR LL RR LL – Hey, what's up? How are things going for you?
3. Paradiddle – RLRR LRLL – How's it going! Everything alright?
Essentially, you're saying the same thing, but each rudiment makes the musical conversations slightly different and gives the drummer a plethora of ways to find their voice! I know all forty rudiments and a ton of variations, but I always seem to fall back on a few different singles, doubles, diddles, flams, and drags. A few from each group have become my default musical vocabulary, and the rest I still use, primarily for technical exercises and practice.
As our students at Up Tempo move up through the levels, we can introduce one or two variations from each group and cover most of what they would need for many songs and musical situations. As they progress and musical interests change, we can introduce variations for fills, making phrases easier to play or, from a technical aspect, exercises that would allow them to expand their playing technically and dynamically. I don't want to make the rudiments seem like a chore; I want to show our students how rudiments, essentially just small changes in the way they play, can change the way they think about music!