A RUFF, ruffe, Rough history. Alas, it’s a Drag.

25 Jun

The Ruff: two grace notes preceding a primary note.

1570-1675 – An exalted or elated state.
1706 – “The drum beats a Ruff and so to bed.”  Farquhar; Recruiting Officer.
1726 – “At the turning of every glass during the night, we beat three Ruffs on the drum.” Shelvocke; Voyage Around the World.

The Oxford English Dictionary contains many entries for the word ruff. Of interest to me are three dating from the mid 16th century, a decorative shirt collar or cuff, an expression of applause by making noise with the feet and a beat or ruffle upon a drum. Might the last be the origin of Ruffles and Flourishes, a ceremonial military greeting played in the United States Army by bugles and drums?

The earliest reference to a Ruff as a drum beat appears in a manuscript titled Thomas Fisher Version dated ca.1634 by the British Museum. Of the six entries, two are single strokes representing the left and right Hands. Four are ruffs: Full Ruff; 1/2 Ruff; Stroke and ruff; and a ruff and a half joined together. All appear in words or letters only.

Though not dated, the next appearance of the Ruff  is believed to have been in the mid to late 1600s and is titled The grounds of beating ye drum. This one page manuscript was discovered inside a book owned by Francis Ducet, pronounced Douse. Among the descriptions of strokes, the following appears: a half ruffe, a whole ruffe, and a ruffe n half. A glyph represents each beat.

In The Revolutionary War Drummer’s Book; Massachusetts Historical Society, ca.1778-1810, one finds 18 patterns written in 18th century drum notation.. Among these are the 3-stroke roll; a stroke and two strokes; a ruff 1, 2, 3, 4 quick from hand-to-hand.

The Drag: two grace notes preceding a primary note.

The Drag first appears as Draggs in Young Drummer’s Assistant, London, ca. 1785. Only one example is given. As engraved, see below, the draggs are identical in execution to Ruffs. The word Ruff does not appear in the book.

Draggs. The Young Drummer's Assistant, London, ca. 1785

Draggs. The Young Drummer’s Assistant, London, ca. 1785

Between 1810 and 1869, thirteen snare drum manuals, methods or Tutors, are known to have been published in the United States. Only eight of the 13 contain the Ruff. Whereas, the drag and drag combinations appear in all 13.

In 1933 the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (NARD) appropriated its list of drum Rudiments from the Gardiner A. Strube .  .  .  a New and entirely Original System of expressing Hand to Hand Drumming. Strube put down 25 Lessons, among them the Ruff, Single Drag and the Double Drag.

N.A.R.D. rudiments 8, 9, and 10.

N.A.R.D. rudiments 8, 9, and 10.

In 2002 the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) renamed The Ruff calling it without prefix, Drag.

PAS Rudiments 31, 32 and 33

PAS Rudiments 31, 32 and 33

The PAS list of drum rudiments can be seen in, Campbell, James: Rudiments in Rhythm, Meredith Music Publications, Maryland, 2002.

The NARD list can be seen in, America’s N.A.R.D. Drum Solos; Ludwig Music, Chicago.

Note:  Please see my article, A Ruff Death (1634-2008, Requiescat in pace)




Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Articles, Fifes & Drums, History


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4 responses to “A RUFF, ruffe, Rough history. Alas, it’s a Drag.

  1. Alex

    November 12, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    A ruff is a few grace notes played before a note. A drag is specifically 2 grace notes played before a note. A drag is a type of ruff, in which more than one grace note is played before the note. A ruff may also have two notes before the main note if both hands tap to create the grace notes, then one hand plays the main note louder. (Of course, this is all in the modern context, it seems like it used to be something totally different.)

  2. Scott

    May 12, 2015 at 10:42 am

    This is somewhat disappointing that the sequence of strokes is acknowledged by PAS, but the intended rhythmic context of the single drag and double drag are lost. What was the justification for the PAS change?

    • robinengelman

      May 22, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Good question and one would have to ask the PAS. Periodically, people feel a need for change.

  3. Peter Middleton

    January 19, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    This is confusing – I still understand 2 grace notes in one hand before a stroke from the other as a Drag, 3 grace notes played hand to hand before a stroke (sticking still carrying on hand to hand) as a Ruff – I believe it’s like that in the Podemski book, though I have heard a respected teacher refer to it as a Drag…


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