Although my recent touring schedule has left me with little time for practice, i've had the opportunity on my travels to pick the brains of some fantastic musicians.It seems a surprisingly polarising topic amongst drummers is the importance of rudiments. This resistance to the rudimental method seems to originate from the fact that some of histories great musical communicators didn't know their Pataflafla from their Double Drag Tap (the ridiculous names perhaps being one of the turn offs). The argument goes that 'If my drumming idols didn't work on rudiments then why should I?' This feels to me like a royal copout. Greatness is achieved through a fair slice of talent but also a much larger portion of hard work and diligence. In the dictionary a rudiment is defined as 'the elements or first principles of a subject'. Shirking a task as fundamental as this is quite simply going to limit your musical potential.
The Rudimental Ritual
I first got serious about the rudimental method after a lesson from my sometime teacher (and great session player) Troy Miller. He recommended the Alan Dawson book 'The Drummers Complete Vocabulary' which contains one of the most time consuming and challenging rudimental exercises around: 'The Rudimental Ritual'. Conceived by Dawson while teaching at Berklee College of Music, it's a 14 minute long list of rudiments that are to be learnt and played from memory on brushes at a high tempo. It can take months or even years to truly master and has been known to reduce even the sternest of players to tears on completion. On describing the exercise to a friend, he politely suggested that it might not be the best use of my time; after all, I was never going to use most of the 86 rudiments in the book and isn't the final goal of practice in the end supposed to be about providing you with something you can apply? As counterintuitive as it may seem, not all of the exercises we work on need to be musically applicable. Yes a Double Paradiddle or Swiss Army Triplet have numerous useful musical applications but sometimes the actual physical mastery of the phrase is the goal; a way of conditioning your muscles. One of the rudiments in lesson 26 is a Flama flama flam flam. I can be close to 100% sure that I will never use this rudiment in a performance but the physical and technical benefits garnered from mastering it will help me execute a multitude of other phrases; phrases executed for musical reasons rather than technical ones. The shedding of any musical pretext and the zooming in on the cold technicality is an expedient for progress. Despite appearances this approach doesn't deviate from the ethos running through each one of my previous articles, namely: the ultimate aim of any practice regime should be to facilitate an improved level of musicality. The difference here is that you actually have to abandon musicality in the process. Here's my attempt from a few months ago:
Stick To It
I know for some drummers this exercise may seem to veer into the realm of 'mindless' practice; It's a long way from simply 'playing from the heart'. My advice would be to approach it as you would a marathon. Enjoyment can be obtained from the idea that one day, however laborious the task, you'll have completed something very, very difficult. This can provide vital motivation during the long, often frustrating hours. Of course the study of rudiments doesn't end with the Ritual. You can develop your own phrases to help overcome common technical hurdles. As a taster try playing the rudiment below which I call a Flam triple-diddle. It requires groups of 3 notes on each hand, a notoriously difficult skill to master.