What was a Poing Stroke?

08 Jan

An inquiry dated July 6, 2005 from the 1st Armored Division Band:

In reading (rereading, actually) the 1794 edition of von Steuben’s manual, I came upon the term “poing stroke” – the actual quote is this:

“To go for wood – poing stroke and ten-stroke roll”

What exactly was a “poing stroke”?  I’ve got a couple of drummers (including myself) who are interested in any light you can shed on this one.

Thanks for your assistance

Dear ______

To answer your question, “What exactly was a “poing stroke”?,  is to open the proverbial Pandora’s Box, and  I had to considered the following: what is the etymology of the word Poing, when did  “Poing Stroke” first appear in drum manuals, and how was it played?

The word Poing does not appear in the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, and I have not come across it in any text relating to drumming other than those mentioned below. Poing is probably onomatopoetic, as are paradiddle, ratamacue and, flam-a-poo, words invented by drummers as aids for memorization.

However, In the French language, Poing means ‘fist’, and thus, suggests an origin. Poing is also a very old community in Germany, whose name may be of Celtic origin, a computer game and a Norwegian contemporary music trio whose members chose the name because they liked its sound.

The Poing Stroke, usually capitalized, appears in each of the seven drum manuals published in the United States prior to 1865.  They are, in chronological order:

I. Hazeltine, David: Instructor in Martial Music, Exeter, New Hampshire, 1810.

II. Ashworth, Charles Stewart: A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating, G. Graupner, Boston, 1812,

III. Levi Lovering: The Drummer’s Assistant or The Art of Drumming Made Easy, J. G. Klemm, Philadelphia, 1818.

IV. Alvan Robinson, Jr.: Massachusetts Collection of Martial Musick, second edition, 1820.

V. George D. Kleinhanse: The Manual for Instruction for Drummers on an Improved Plan, containing The Rudiments of Drum-Beating, Washington, D.C., 1853.

VI. Elias Howe: United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor, Boston, 1862.

VII. William Nevin: Army Regulations for Drum, Fife and Bugle, Root and Cady, Chicago, 1864.

Four of these seven manuals describe the technique for playing a single Poing Stroke:

I. Hazeltine (1810), page 5: “Poing Stroke, is beat by giving a light flam and strike each stick nigh to the hoop of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time”.

Note: The Hazeltine lesson’s are printed in words only. They contain no music notation.

II. Lovering (1818), page 9: “The Poing Stroke Is beat in the following manner. Strike the head about three inches from the lower side with a smart sliding stroke; throw up the hand as directed in the First Lesson”.  (first lesson, page 5. “throw the arm out briskly to the side of the body, and as high as the head”.)

Note: I interpret “Lower side” to be that part of the drum head furthest from the drummer, but under the right hand stick when the drum is slung for a right handed player as it would be by military regulation. I also interpret ‘smart’ to mean snappy/hard.

III. Robinson (1820), page 8: “Poing Stroke is performed by giving a flam and striking each stick upon the head of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time”.

IV, Elias Howe (1862), page 5. “Poing Stroke, is performed by giving a flam and striking both sticks upon the head of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time.”

Two of the manuals clearly indicate three types of Poing Strokes:

I. Ashworth, (1812), page 4: “Poing Stroke, Hard”; “Hard but not as hard as Poing”, and “Faint Stroke”.1

Note: Ashworth’s notation makes no differentiation between  “hard but not as hard as Poing” and “faint Stroke”.

II. Nevin (1864), Prior to page 6 quoted below, and under the title “On The Position, And Striking The Drum”, Nevin writes, “No. 8, the Poing Stroke, means a sudden, hard, shor beat. No. 9, moderately hard. No. 10, Soft, long, drawing stroke”.

Page 6, “Poing Strokes: No. 8 Hard. No. 9. Middling hard. No. 10 Faint or Soft.”

Note: Nevin further clarifies the loudness levels of these three Poing Strokes, by including a second stave above the first, with the music abbreviations FF. mf and P under each stroke.

One manual indicates two types of Poing Strokes:

I. Klinehanse, (1853), page 2.”Poing St. Hard, and “Not so hard as Poing”.

Four other texts are worthy of scrutiny. Three pre-date the seven manuals above and contain  drum strokes appearing to be variants of Poing.

Two texts mention a Pong Stroke. Their notation, a bold slanted line through the stem of a quarter note, is similar to the Hard Poing Stroke in Ashworth, Klinehanse and Nevin. In these manuals the Pong Strokes appear in many of the same camp duty signals, as the Poing, and in similar places, usually the beginning or ending of phrases:

1A. The oldest of these ‘Pong Texts’ may be The Young Drummers Assistant, Longman and Broderip, London, ca.1785. Page 2, “Explanation of Marks”, contains two columns of strokes notated on five line staves. The left column, reads from top to bottom: “Faint Stroke”;  “Hard Stroke” & “Pong Stroke”. The order suggest the Pong Stroke was the loudest & hardest.

2A. The ‘Pong’ stroke also appears on page 22 of A Revolutionary War Drummer’s Book, property of the Massachusetts Historical Society and dated by them, 1778.2 The book was written with a quill pen by an anonymous Continental Army drummer. It contains drum exercises and beatings for tunes that appear in name only.  On page 22 appears: “8 A stroke and a pong; 9 A pong and a stroke”. Under The Water Call on page 36, there are two very faint marks that look like half notes. Their placement corresponds to the Poing, Poing, Flam sequence on page 9 of Ashworth’s Water Call.

Pong is in the Oxford English Dictionary, and may be a predecessor of, or another name for, the Poing stroke. “Pong, (1823, OED, 1981, [Echoic], “The sound of a ringing blow; a bang; taken as the name of such a blow, or of an explosion.”

The authors of The Young Drummers Assistant and A Revolutionary War Drummer’s Book, do not explain how the Pong Stroke was played. However, the French definition for Poing and the English definition for Pong, provoke my imagination.

3A. The third text offers a puzzle in that it contains a stroke name that, to my knowledge, does not appear in any other manual.  J. L. Rumrille and H. Holton, The Drummer’s Instructor: or Martial Musician, Packard & Van Benthuyser, Albany, 1817, page 4, lists Heavy and Light Paying” Strokes. My guess is that Paying, like Poing and Pong, were heavy strokes. Neither ‘Poing’ nor ‘Pong’ appear in the text.

4A, The Douce manuscript (ca.1650) contains one page of pictographs with English definitions. One of these reads, “Is a bang by ye hoop” and may be a predecessor of Levi Lovering’s Poing Stroke (no. II above).

5A. An even older example of what may have become the Pong or Poing Strokes appears in the Warrant issued by Charles I  (ca.1632) in England ca. 1632. This is the “Poung stroke”. It appears only eight times as the last note in each of the Warrant’s eight lines of music, and without explanation.


“What exactly was a “poing stroke(s)? You choose.

Three authors indicate the Poing Stroke is to be played “Lightly” with two sticks; two authors list three types of Poing Strokes in some variant of, “Hard, Not so Hard and Soft”-one of these includes “a soft, long, drawing stroke”; a sixth calls for a single “Smart Sliding” stroke, a seventh calls for a single “Hard” stroke.

In the manuals of the 18th & 19th century, the Poing or Pong Stroke was a fundamental stroke of drumming and may have been or become comparable to the modern “Down stroke”-the pulse and loudest stroke. Also, three dynamic levels are indicated by Poing: Hard. moderately hard and  faint, which may have been comparable to the modern  Down, Up and Tap.

In perusing old drum manuals it becomes obvious that many were not intended to be Tutors-Self instructors, and many technical issues were thought to require no explanation.  Therefore, some ambiguity exists.

Bruce and Emmett’s “Drummers’ & Fifers’ Guide” (1862) and Gardner Strube’s “Drum and Fife Instructor” (1869), perhaps the two most influential drum books in 19th century North America, do not mention the Point Stroke, and to my knowledge, no drum manual after 1864 (Nevin) contains The Poing Stroke.

I wrote a tune for fifes and drums called “Speak Softly” in which I used ‘Poing Strokes” according to the  Hazeltine, Robinson and Howe method.3 I like the sound, particularly on a drum with wooden hoops. If properly executed, the stroke does indeed ‘Poing’. The hoops on many rope tensioned drums, modern or antique, rise well above the heads, thus making rim shots easy, if sometimes unwanted.

If I can be of further assistance, please contact me.



1. George Kusel wrote in his “The Marching Drummer’s Companion” (p. XVIII, private publication, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, 1970): “It would appear that in Ashworth the ‘Poing Strokes’ are simply played only as strongly as flams, not more or less so. A ‘Hard Stroke’ is less than a flam, and a ‘Faint Stroke’ is lightest of all.” If Kusel is correct about hard flams and poing strokes being of equal strength, the control of three dynamic levels would have been one of the goal of a colonial military drummer.

2. The Massachusetts Historical Society dated the book 1778 because the book contains a drum beat titled ,”The Valley Forg”(sic) and Washington’s army encamped in Valley Forge during the winter of 1778.  However, the music historian Susan Cifaldi, using a powerful microscope, found a watermark on a page of this book. The mark was traced to a printer/paper dealer in Boston who was active between 1800 and 1810.

3. A composition for fifes,two parts, and field drums.

Copyright©2008 & 2010, Robin Engelman-revised August 28, 2009 & March 22, 2010.

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Posted by on January 8, 2009 in Articles, Fifes & Drums


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