An Analytical Approach to Rudiments: Part Two, Application of the Strokes

As a performer and instructor, I often find it enormously helpful to diagnose technical or musical problems by isolating what one hand must play from the other hand.  In the following examples, I will break down several rudiments to show the strokes and rhythm that each individual hand must perform to play the rudiments cleanly and accurately.

The Flam Rudiments, part III. of the Percussive Arts Society International Rudiments, can serve as a prime example of application of the Four Basic Types of Strokes to rudimental snare drumming.   (For a review of the Four Basic Types of Strokes, see Part One of this series.)

Let's first apply the four basic types of strokes to the flam.  A flam, for any non-percussionists, is a note with a single grace note.  A flam serves an ornamental purpose, fattening the attack of a note to create variety in articulation.  To play a flam, a percussionist sets up with one stick low (perhaps 1-2 inches from the head) and the other stick high (specific height depends on dynamic) and brings the sticks down at the same time.  Since the low stick, or grace note, is set up closer to the drum head, it attacks just before the high stick, or main note.  The effect should be a slightly widened attack; I often tell students to consider the two strokes of the flam to be one event: a "flam" rather than a "fa - lam."  If the left stick is set up low and right stick high, we refer to this as a right flam, since the right stick is the main note.  Conversely, a left flam is set up with the left stick high and right stick low. 

In the following examples, I use the following abbreviations to denote stroke types:

  • F = full stroke
  • T = tap
  • D = down stroke
  • U = up stroke

The stem lengths in the following examples are meant to represent three different stick heights:

  • The longest stem represents an accented high stick height.
  • The medium stem represents an unaccented high height.
  • The shortest stem represents a low stick height.

A series of flams can be played as repeated right or left flams, or alternating flams.

To play repeated right flams, the right hand plays only full strokes, while the left hand plays only taps, placed just before the right hand attack.  Each hand separately would look like this:

For repeated left flams, the reverse is true: full strokes in the left hand, and taps in the right.

To play alternating flams, the right and left hands utilize alternating up and down strokes to set up for the opposite flam.  For example, after playing a right flam, the right stick must be set low to prepare to be the grace note in the upcoming left flam.  After playing the grace note, the right stick must be raised to prepare for the upcoming right flam.  When playing alternating flams, each hand individually plays the following pattern: up-down-up-down-etc.

The flam tap is slightly more complicated.  Since flam taps alternate in succession, each hand repeats the same stroke pattern of full-down-up, with an accent on the full stroke:

The flam accent pattern is similar to the flam tap, but follows a different rhythmic pattern and a full stroke is added after the up stroke.  Each hand will play full-down-up-full, with an accent on the first full stroke:

Isolating each hand can make it much easier to diagnose and correct issues in rudiments (and really, in any musical passage).  I find that if each hand can perform the rhythms and strokes demanded by the rudiments cleanly and accurately, success in performing the composite rudiment is much more likely.  This strategy can also help students begin to develop a detail-orientated approach to practicing, which will certainly be useful in their continued musical studies. 

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