There is an accompanying PDF for sale here. It contains all of the exercises in this article in one easy to download PDF.
Students often ask me "How do I practice rudiments?"
The simple answer is to practice your drum rudiments! Practice them slowly, increasing the speed in a relaxed manner. Practice them everyday on a practice pad until you have developed the muscle memory to be able work on orchestrating the pattern around the drums. Once you are at the stage of being ready to orchestrate the rudiments then continuing reading below for the 16 steps that I use to practice my rudiments.
Drum rudiments are the basis of everything we do as drummers, they are the vocabulary that is used to express rhythmic ideas. Simple to learn but difficult to master, when diligent practice of these rudiments is undertaken the drummer can reach the highest levels. The standard set of rudimental patterns were for a long time the 26 Drum Rudiments, but in 1984, the Percussive Arts Society reorganized, and reinterpreted, the NARD 26 and added another 14 to form the current 40 International Snare Drum Rudiments.
After a long time of practicing the same rudiments everyday in the same way, I came to the realization that I had only improved upon one thing, and that was my ability to play these patterns at very fast tempos. At the time it seemed like a good thing to do, but one day I realized that other than a few stock patterns I knew how to orchestrate, I hadn’t figured out how to use drum rudiments properly.
When do we ever play a rudiment only on the snare drum and at blistering speeds? As a professional drummer for 20 years, playing many different genres of music, I can remember only one time when I was on a gig and played a rudiment on the snare drum at a blistering speed. ONE TIME.
I remember it clearly……..
It was the year end concert for the Concordia University Big Band and we were playing one of Gordon Goodwin’s killin’ big band charts. The tune was a raunchy medium swing and there’s this section at the end of the song where it gets very loud and funky. Right near the end of that section there are two one-measure breaks for the drums. So in the first break I would always do a loud n’ fast single stroke roll. It sounded cool, and was effective, but it was the only time I ever did that in my entire drumming career. So if we were to do the math then that’s probably about 0.0000000000001% of my career has been spent playing fast rudiments on the snare drum during professional gigs.
So why does it seem to be such an obsession that we practice our rudiments for hours and hours on the snare drum, or even worse, on a practice pad, without ever understanding the point of that rudiment? What does it accomplish? Fluidity? But what can you do with said fluidity? The answer, sadly, is that you won’t be able to do much more than play them at fast tempos on a single surface. But that’s not what drummers do, we almost never play on a single surface for an extended period of time
The thing I find most drummers (beginners, intermediate, and even advanced) are lacking is their understanding of the applications of the rudiments. They spend too much on the mechanics of ‘how’ to play a rudiment without asking ‘why’ or ‘what’ often enough. ‘Why’ am I practicing this rudiment? ‘What’ is its purpose? ‘What’ are the possibilities?
A rudimental pattern is only as useful as it’s direct application, and if the pattern cannot be directly applied to a musical situation then it is not useful. UNLESS you are specifically practicing something to improve technique. But that's a different thing altogether.
The purpose of this article is to help the student (or teacher) learn new ways to apply the rudiments, so they can get off the pad and begin to apply these patterns with confidence.
You can just read the article if you feel like it, but combining it with practicing the exercises and videos will yield much better results and will deepen your understanding of these concepts. Also, as I will reiterate at the end of this article, the amount of work you’ll need to put into these concepts is immense and only those who have patience and discipline will make it to the end.
Is this you?
To download all of the exercise on a PDF, go here.
Here are some of the ways that I practice my rudiments:
1. Practice the rudiment on a single surface
Yes I did just rant about practicing rudiments on a single surface, and perhaps I even gave the impression that it’s not important to practice your rudiments in that manner. Of course it’s important! My rant earlier was addressing the fact that too many drummers don’t take their rudiments further than the practice pad. A vast majority of drummers practice their rudiments WAY TOO MUCH on a single surface and WAY TO LITTLE around the drums. Do you know when it’s actually important to practice a rudimental pattern on a practice pad? When you need to; when you cannot physically execute an idea and need to spend time checking your hands to see what is going on with them. If you are capable of playing a rudiment then you should be using it as an outlet to expand your vocabulary, not trying to break the sound barrier.
But yes, do spend time practicing on a single surface, with and without a metronome.
2. Both hands on the same surface
Moving a rudiment all around the drums and cymbals with both hands on the same surface will give you an idea of how the rudiment “moves”, meaning how to go from one surface to the next while being mindful of the sticking.
3. Break up the hands
Separate the hands and listen to the two rhythms that occur. Listen to the character that this creates. Suddenly a swiss army triplet is not just a triplet pattern with a flam at the front of it, it’s two different rhythms permutated against each other that can be used to create tension and excitement in any type of music. Playing a rudiment between two surfaces also shows you how the two hands interact.
4. Isolate each hand
Once you find the rhythm that is being played by each hand then practice each of them separately. This is the most analytical step as it allows you to put all of your focus into a single hand and perfect its mechanics.
Do you want to play your rudiments at blistering, unheard of tempos? Then this is a necessary step of the journey. Do you want to play in a relaxed manner and have everything sound great? Then this step is also an integral part of the journey.
No matter what type of drummer you want to become it’s important to spend time perfecting your mechanics and one of the best ways to do this is to work on one limb at a time.
Put time into this step and you will quickly hear the results.
5. Add bass drum accents
Put some punch into the pattern by adding a repeated bass drum. You can even add a 2 & 4 ‘chick’ on the hi hat to jazz it up. Basically adding any foot ostinato under your rudiment instantly creates an interesting idea. Suddenly practicing rudiments becomes a 4-way coordination exercise, very efficient!
Start simple by putting a bass drum on the quarter note. Once you are comfortable with this basic pattern then try putting the bass drum on different notes of the rudiment. Once you’ve gone through placing bass drums on single notes then begin adding doubles, triples, odd-note groupings, whatever you can think of.
Play around with the dynamics of the bass drum, adding accents, crescendos/decrescendos, one-measure of forte and then a measure of pianissimo, etc..... Work on the attack of the bass drum, practice sticking the beater and leaving it on the head and then later working on the same ideas but rebounding the beater.
Swung or straight? Precise or loose? Practice different feels, play very precise and get it perfectly aligned with your hands, and then try placing it just ahead or just behind. This should be done with metronome so to keep it in time.
6. Fill-in rests with the bass drum
Put the bass drum any time that there is a rest. This is one of the best ways that you can practice your hand foot technique, rather than just practicing the classic R-L-F, or R-L-F-F, you can add intricate hand foot combinations to your drumming. It will take some time to decide what is the best bass drum pattern to add to a particular pattern, but with practice, experience, and perhaps a great teacher (me!), you will be able to master this concept. Put the bass drum anytime that there is a rest,
A lot of drummers use only the classic Bonham style hand-foot patterns. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these patterns, they sound great and aren't too difficult to learn. But this article is about taking your drumming to the next level, and so if you wish to do this then you will need to work on more intricate patterns than the classic Bonham style triplets.
To download all of the exercise on a free PDF, go the store and click on "Maximize You Rudimental Potential".
7. Substitute a hand for the bass drum
Try substituting one of the hands for the bass drum. This is an incredible way to develop your hand-foot coordination.
Practicing the rudiments between the hands and feet is a necessary step towards mastering multi-limb coordination. Going through the rudiments like this will do wonders for your playing and you will come out of it with fresh ideas for your fills, solos and even grooves. If you were to go through this step while play a cymbal ostinato with your free hand then you would come up with some great grooves that have been derived directly from rudimentary material, which will expand upon your improvisational vocabulary.
8. Use it in a groove
Be creative and figure out different ways to place the rudiment into your drum grooves. Play it on the hi hat, or play it between multiple surfaces without losing your infectious groove.
This is a great way to spice them up, and with the current generation of modern drummers, this is a must if you wish to take your drumming to the next level. Most of the great drummers of this era utilize rudiments in their drum beats.
You can even use them in simple manners such as playing some doubles on the high hat while maintaining a basic two & four backbeat. This can be done relatively early on in your development and once you’ve gotten down the basic beats.
To help to understand this concept listen to the great Steve Gadd perform on the classic song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”. Gadd employees doubles between his hands and his feet in a masterful way, and also adds a five stroke roll to the end of the pattern aiming towards the target note on beat one.
9. Use it in a drum-fill
Practice any of the ideas in this article with a drum fill in mind. Play a measure of time and then play one of the ideas from a different step. Rinse and repeat until you have developed a personalized inventory with a single rudiment.
At the beginning practice doing one or two beat drum fills to make sure that you under fully understand the concept without getting lost inside of the measure. Once you're comfortable with this begin to extend the drum fills into one-measure drum-fills and beyond.
10. Play it at different rates
Each rudiment is generally written the same way in all of the rudiment charts. A Swiss Army Triplet is written as a triplet, a 5-Stroke Roll is written as a 16th-note pattern. But if you don’t practice different rhythmical rates then you’re only getting a minimal understanding of its possibilities, thus you will sadly never reach maximum rudimental potential.
Practicing at different rates is an extremely important step in fully developing the rudiments. The first thing you can do is to double the speed and half the speed, and you should write them down in the early stages to help with counting.
Once you've learned how to double or half the speed, then try using different rhythmic values. For example the Swiss Army triplet is a triplet based rudiment but how would you play it as a 16th note pattern? How would you play it as an eighth note pattern? You have to know how many times to play it before it resets, or if you want to play it a certain amount of times you have to know how many beats to play after or before it in order for the grouping to fit inside the rhythmic structure. At the beginning stages of this step you should definitely write out the patterns so that you can see how it works. But eventually the goal is that you can just hear these ideas. So take it as far as you can think of, there is no end to the possibilities.
11. Different time signatures
Practicing rudiments, or anything for that matter, in different time signatures is a must if you want to play the drums at a high level. There are very few types of musical genres that keep to one specific time signature. Therefore if you wish to be versatile and to have a strong vocabulary in any time signature then you must practice your rudiments in different time signatures.
As with the Step 10, it's important to at the beginning stages to write your ideas down so that you can properly count them out. It's very easy to make a mistake when learning a new time signature because you haven't internalized the core rhythms. Thus writing the ideas out before playing them can help a lot in keeping yourself from straying. When practicing your rudiments in a new time signature it can help a lot to add some sort of foot pattern; whether it's quarter notes on the high hat or a foot ostinato between the bass drum and the hi-hat, this will help you to learn the new time signature as it helps keep track of the beats as they go by.
If you don't want to work on adding foot ostinatos then you can count out loud, which is another very important skill to have. Or you can play to a metronome that gives a strong pulse on beat 1. Some metronomes even have a voice that will count the beats out loud, this is also very helpful and if your goal is to eventually be able to count it yourself this going to help you to hear someone doing it at the beginning stages before you have internalized the concept.
Permutation is one of my personal favourites and is one of the most important concepts in developing your drumming abilities to the highest level. It’s a way of getting a ton of mileage out of a single pattern and is an important step to fully realizing an idea. By learning to start a pattern on any note you exponentially increase your vocabulary.
If you always practice your rudiments starting on the original beat that they are written then you will always only be able to play your rudiments on that beat. It will be difficult for you to develop rhythmic concepts and thus you will always play in a boxed in manner. This may sound harsh but it is true, and this often neglected concept is one of the secrets to developing your musicality.
The classic book Future Sounds is one of the best resources for learning about permutation. The author David Garibaldi goes into great detail about the concept of permutation, using some of the funkiest known grooves ever to be written as examples. Although the book uses drum beats as the examples, and this article is about rudiments, I have yet to find a better resource on the topic of permutation. Not only will you learn about permutation and can apply it to your rudiments, but I highly recommend going through this book if you want to learn more about funk drumming and linear grooves. You can even use his book as an outlet for applying your rudiments to grooves (STEP 8). Rather than playing some sort of basic rock feel and using that as your practice beat for these concepts, why not use an exceptionally well thought out pattern that was written by one of the Great Master drummers?
13. Add rests
Put pauses into your rudiments to create tension and excitement. Rather than constantly playing note-after-note-after-note, add some rests and your ideas will have more character. This will also help you to learn how to develop musical phrases. Although it can sometimes be exciting to hear a drummer play an endless amount of patterns without without any sort of break, I personally enjoy hearing a drummer who has mastered the art of using the space. The secret of the great drummers that often gets missed by intermediate, and even by advanced drummers, is adding space into their ideas and being able to start and stop them wherever they feel like it.
Practice putting different types of rests into your rudiments to allow them to be played in a flowing manner, such like a great stream of consciousness poem, and lessen the chances of sounding boring. Start simple and always write down your ideas in the beginning stages. Practice this concept long enough and you will even be able to execute ideas that you never practiced just by developing your ears to a high level. You will be able to place an idea where ever you feel like and won't get lost in the measure.
14. Use it to hit target notes
Often the target notes are figures being played by the band, and part of the drummer’s job is to set up that punch or figure.
If you listen to the great big bands such as the Count Basie Big Band, the Duke Ellington Big Band or the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band you'll hear the drummer playing different patterns, usually some sort of rudimental combination, to set up exciting punches that the band is playing together.
15. Play it as an ostinato and improvise with feet
This is a great way to practice your rudiment over & over again, while adding a melodic element to it. Ever tried playing a foot solo? Well here’s your chance! This concept is different from STEP 5 (Bass Drum Accents) because it also uses the hi-hat, and because this step is meant to be an improvisational one. This can be done simply by writing out a few different examples, such as in Example 15, or do things like go through syncopation reading exercises playing the short notes on the high hat and the long notes on the bass drum.
Ostinatos are a great way to build a story in an improvisation.
In the beginning stages playing a foot ostinato while improvising with your feet might be very difficult, so make sure to start with simple patterns so that you can develop the necessary independence to be able to improvise these ideas. Over time as you work on this it will get easier, I promise. But this step will take time. Diligence, patience and consistent practice must be adhered to in order to master this step. If you do not wish to master the art of playing ostinatos with your hands while improvising with your feet, then at least work through the example to develop a basic understanding and some proficiency in the idea, it will only strengthen your ability to play different 4-way coordination patterns in the future.
16. Combine with other rudiments
In the end, we rarely play the same rudiment repeatedly without adding in some other combinations. We’ll combine different rudiments to achieve the specific sounds that we are hearing in our heads to express ideas. So definitely practice combining rudiments. You can do it in a methodical way if you can come up some sort of system for it, or just pick some rudiments you think will work together and practice combining them. You can even go through steps #1-15 while combining two rudiments together. The possibilities are endless, and there are no rules. The examples on the worksheet are only there to demonstrate the ideas. But do not stop there. Open your mind and let your own creative ideas dictate how to use the above steps. That is how you will create a unique and individual sound.
Combining rudiments is an important final step to achieving maximum rudimental potential, and much time must be spent on it. What we often do is work a rudiment for a long period time but then never work on it with other ideas. When we play music we are constantly combining different patterns and ideas into a chain of events to tell a story and so this must be practiced.
This concept WILL take years to master and so the you must understand that this is not some sort of quick fix that will allow you to become a master drummer in six months or a year. That is just not possible, and never believe someone who tries to tell you that it is. Mastering your rudiments, and the drum set for that matter, is a lifetime journey, and if you truly wish to become a master drummer the you must truly be passionate about it. Otherwise you will soon become bored of the incredible amount of work and discipline that is required to achieve these results.
But saying that, if you love drums and you just want to play and have fun, but also want to improve, you can work through these examples, and watch the Youtube videos. If you have not previously practiced the Swiss Army Triplet then you will learn a new rudiment and you will learn a lot of great application ideas. Number one priority is that you're always having fun and that you play for the love of the music and for the art of drumming.
If you are serious about the craft of drumming (and chances are that since you've read all the way to this point that you are serious), then I would recommend purchasing the accompanying PDF for this blog post here. It's only $4.99CDN (so about $3.25US), and the value you will get out of that purchase will be exponential.