During the winter of 1778, as George Washington’s infantry rehearsed the manoeuvers of Baron von Steuben,[1.] it was the sound of an English drumming tradition that filled the parade ground of Valley Forge.
Over time the hand to hand beats played by English drummers had been grouped into short rhythmic patterns, given names, codified and passed on to colonial drummers. Some of the patterns signaled soldiers to perform camp duties such as getting fire wood or water, whilst other patterns directed their movements in battle.
In the hands of creative drummers, these patterns could be combined to enliven popular melodies which eased a soldier’s weariness or emboldened fighting men in the face of an enemy. Drummers were required to practice these patterns assiduously.
Eventually they were known as the Rudiments of drumming and the drumming style, Rudimental.
The word rudiments first appeard in a drum book in 1812. On page 3 of A New Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating, Charles Stewart Ashworth wrote, Rudiments for Drum Beating in General. Under this heading he inscribed and named 26 patterns required of drummers by contemporary British and American armies and militias. The word Rudiment was not used again in US drum manuals until 1862. George B. Bruce began page 4 of Bruce and Emmett’s Drummers and Fifers Guide with the words Rudimental Principles.
Beginning with the long roll, Bruce listed 35 patterns concluding with a paragraph titled Recapitulation of the Preceeding Rolls and Beats. On page 7 of his 1869 Drum and Fife Instructor, Gardiner A. Strube wrote, The Rudimental Principles of Drum – Beating, and followed with 25 examples, each named Lesson.
The National Association of Rudimental Drummers (“N.A.R.D.”) was organized in 1933-34. The men of the N.A.R.D. were well known teachers, performers and composers. Some of them had studied drumming with Civil War veterans, whom they referred to as The Ancients. The N.A.R.D. was formed to enhance, preserve and disseminate what in their minds was an endangered style of drumming.
They combined Gardiner Strube’s 25 lessons, added the long roll and perhaps for the first time in history, unambiguously declared each heretofore lesson, pattern, beat, or principle, a Rudiment. They called the first 13 rudiments “Essential”. These were used to test applicants seeking membership in the Thirteen Club.
Another list of snare drum rudiments was compiled in 2008 by a group of drummers from the Percussive Arts Society (P.A.S.) Marching Percussion Committee. Their compilation contained 38 rudiments of unspecified origin including 24 of the “Hybrid” variety, and the 26 N.A.R.D. rudiments, making a grand total of 64 rudiments.
Drummers can become attached to a rudiment. Its appeal can be historic, or the feeling in the hands when its played. Even the onomatopoetic nature of its name may endear it. The Paradiddle and Ratamacue are examples of the latter. If one repeats these names, one can imagine how they’d sound played on a drum. [2.]
Along side the Flam, my favourites have always been the Ruff and its relative, the four stroke Ruff. These rudiments are to my mind, the most elegant and useful beats in a drummer’s repertoire.
The Ruff’s soft R suggests a variety of nuances. The four stroke Ruff, played as a roll can substitute for the five stroke roll. However, the Drag’s consonant D, limits expressions. Even so, the P.A.S. committee changed the name of the Ruff to Drag.
Had the N.A.R.D. made their list to read Ruff, Ruff tap and double Ruff Tap, the P.A.S. committee may have followed suit, allowing a continuance to the life of Ruffs.
In May of 2011, a group of very good drummers began a contentious and sometimes humorous exchange of e-mails after one of them was criticized for using the word Drag rather than Ruff. If the statute of limitations runs out before I die, I may publish their correspondence.
Perhaps all this Tea pot tempest could be ameliorated by shifting the conversation to Strokes. As the inimitable John S. (Jack) Pratt said,
“Drum rudiments are exercises. The rudiments of drumming are strokes”. [3,]
Without preamble I asked a group of friends, all prominent teachers and performers, how many strokes were used in snare drumming. Their answers ranged in number from 1 to 11, and one person replied, “Is this a trick question?”
If no agreement exists among some of the best drummers in North America about the number of strokes needed to play a snare drum, might not arguments about Ruffs and Drags be considered akin to bickering?
Today, within the ranks of Fife and Drum corps drummers, the Ruff’s proud name, it’s romantic evocation of history and onomatopoetic pedigree survive, but outside that cozy womb of nostalgia, in the brittle, frenetic world of Kevlar heads and carpal tunnel syndromes, the Ruff is only a memory, if that.
Now, after its first appearance in print 370 years ago, the Ruff is no longer a part of an academic drummer’s lexicon.
The Ruff is dead, Viva la Ruff!!
[1.] Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was of Prussian birth and a soldier, though he seems to have awarded himself the title. He knew19th century infantry tactics, taught them to the Colonial Army and authored an illustrated compendium of his military learning, popularly known as the Blue Book because of its cover’s colour, but officialy entitled Baron von Steuben and His Regulations.
[2.] In fact, the verbal repetition of onomatopoeia was sometimes used to teach musically illiterate young drummer boys. Today it is still used as a kind of verbal short hand.
[3,] Jack Pratt used the English language carefully. He took a Master’s degree in English with a thesis about poet John Keats. He was a published member of the New Jersey Society of Poets and taught English in a local New Jersey high school until his retirement. Jack is also a virtuoso performer and prolific composer of drum solos in the so called Rudimental or military style. His carefully drawn manuscripts bear witness to his meticulous nature. Jack’s lengthy and detailed Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame acceptance speech is the stuff of legends.
Swiss and Basel Drumming.
Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Mss.h.h.I.3
Parchment · 472 ff. · 38 x 27.5–28 cm · Bern 1478-1483,
Diebold Schilling, Amtliche Berner Chronik, vol. 3. Swiss Halberdiers and Pikemen approaching the Battle of Morat (Murten),1476. photo courtesy Markus Estermann, STPV.
Click on photo to enlarge.
Until recently I was unaware of the existence of more than one side drumming tradition in Switzerland. I had believed Dr. Fritz Berger to be the preerminent Swiss drummer who during the 1930’s consolidated disparate Swiss styles into one. The presence of his solo Rudimenter Good Luck (Basel-America Mixpickles), in the National Association of Rudimental Drummers book, America’s N.A.R.D. Drum Solos, a.k.a. The Green Book, precipitated this belief. Later, the fame of Basel , Switzerland’s Fastnacht Festival and its drummers became well known to me and many other North American drummers.
Alfons Grieder of Basel, Switzerland was reputed to be Dr. Berger’s best student and disciple. His early visits to North America and stunning performance with the American Basel ensemble Americlique during the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in 2002, further enforced my belief that Alfons’ drumming was the drumming of Switzerland. I may have subconsciously wanted its unsettling bar line hesitations to be a national trait, uniquely Swiss as Scots drumming to Scotland and our straight forward anglo style of military drumming to North America.
And then in July of 2014, an e-mail arrived from Mr. Markus Estermann of the Swiss Fife and Drum Association intended to convince me that Swiss and Basel drumming were different entities. Below I reprint a few pertinent correspondences between Mr. Estermann and myself, all edited for clarity and continuity. As well as providing a context for this article, they contain information that may well be of interest to the general public and drummers in particular.
Finally I enclose an e-mail sent to me by Mark Reilly after he read this article.
26 August, 2014
I studied your homepage. Under the chapter “snare drum notation” you wrote about Swiss notation. It is the hieroglyphs are used only in a few Basel drum and fife groups. The Swiss notation has nothing to do with hieroglyphs. You got from me all known Swiss military music scores actually known.
Alphons (sic) Grieder is unknown in the Swiss drum and fife association. (Italics by R.E.)
I hope we stay in contact.
26 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,
Thank you for your e-mail and notation downloads. I believe you refer to my postings titled “Examples of Snare Drum Notation” from 1589 to 1869 arranged chronologically. The example is the early Swiss drum notation you mention in your mail.
1860 ca.- Swiss,with modern notation below.
This score appears in your downloads as well as the booklet I referenced for my article, a booklet accompanying the three CD collection titled Trommeln und Pfeifen in Basel.
This collection, as well as the LP recording 100 Joor VKB were presented to me by Alfons after his appearance in the 2002 Drummers Heritage Concert in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
I have not been able to find an article of mine that uses the word hieroglyphs in connection with Swiss drumming notation.
Dear Mr. Engelman
Thank you very much for your e-mail.
Unfortunately Alfons Grieder is not known in Switzerland and he has no influence to the Swiss drumming.
He was talking in the USA about Basel drumming not Swiss drumming.
Basel drumming is an element of Swiss drumming. So he put a lot of mythos in his publication. Georg Duthaler was historian and he has a correct view of the matter.
Swiss drummers used more than 200 years music scores and not hieroglyphs. Dr. Fritz Berger adapted the Swiss drummers music scores to the Basel-/French style. All typical Basel rudiments came from France.
I hope to give you some input and we can stay in contact.
Comment: Alfons passed away in 2003 and I don’t know the publication to which Mr. Esstermann referred. Nevertheless, it was now clear that Swiss Drumming, in a nutshell, is an altogether different discipline from Basel Drumming and had been long before Dr. Berger’s work.
While preparing this article I contacted some of my North American drumming colleagues and found they too had assumed Basel drumming to be Switzerland’s only military style of Drumming.
27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,
I am sorry to hear Alfons is unknown in Switzerland and among Swiss drummers. He was a gentleman of great dignity and an exceptionally gifted musician and performer.
Thank you for making the very important distinction between Basel and Swiss drumming, a distinction I was unaware of and misrepresented because of personal ignorance.
I appreciate you taking time to write me and I have begun searching my articles in order to correct any faults relating to this issue.
My sincere best wishes,
27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Engelman
Thank you for your e-mail. I am sure that we have a lot to exchange.
Mark Reilly’s clear and informative response to this article is reprinted below with his permission and my sincere gratitude.
Thank you for the email. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and a fantastic New Year. It is an honor for me to read through this. Markus is a good friend. We met a few years ago and spent time together here in DC this summer. I will see him again next month in Basel for Fasnacht.
As for the article, I believe this to be a beautiful write up delineating the two divided but connected drumming worlds present in Switzerland. There was one spelling error (Nark instead of Mark). I am also not sure if you would like to include some of the realities of this event regarding the Swiss trip this summer. The STV, now called the STPV only brought 60 members over for their US tour. I am not sure what the entire reason was for the smaller numbers.
When it comes to the differences between the Basel style and the “Swiss” style there are many differences that may seem subtle to our “American” ears but to those immersed within these cultures the differences are not only found within the music but also their customs.
The Basel style certainly became extremely popular around the world when Dr. Berger connected with the NARD in the 1930s and even more so when Alfons came to the States. The Basel style as it stands today certainly contains several localized dialects that vary from clique to clique, similarly to that of the Ancient fife and drum corps in the Northeastern portion of the United States.
The Swiss style that Markus refers to is also new to me as well. The research that Markus has shared focuses on the other fife and drum traditions prevalent in cities like Zürich, and the Wallis (Swiss Alps region), and Geneva. The Wallis fife and drum tradition is a very old tradition and still uses 6 hole wooden fifes with rope tension drums unlike the piccolos used in Basel.
I am not sure how far you would like to dive into this topic. It is expansive due to the depth of the cultural divide between Basel and the “other” parts of Switzerland. To compare it to American sports… The Basel / Zürich rivalry is similar to New York / Boston. A great example of this is Ivan Kym who is a Swiss national champion that lives outside of Basel and has begun to really push the envelope when it comes to technical demand of Rudimental drumming in Switzerland. He blends Basel drumming techniques with a myriad of other influences to include snare drum ensemble pieces that include several layered parts, comparable to the feel of a percussion ensemble.
It is my opinion that the shear number of drummers in Basel and the size of the Basel Fasnacht is a large reason why most of us have only heard of Basel when it come(s) to Switzerland’s drumming history.
I hope that this helps… Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.
Cheers and best regards
SFC J. Mark Reilly
Snare Drum Section Leader
3d U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard”
Fife & Drum Corps
Official Ceremonial Unit and
Escort to the President of the United States
Comment: Mr. Estermann kindly provided me with a recent example of Swiss drumming: Click on link to view:
Posted by robinengelman on February 5, 2015 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, Fifes & Drums, History
Tags: Alfons Grieder, Basel Drumming, Battle of Morat 1476, Bryan Stone photographer, Dennis DeLucia, Dr. Fritz Berger, Drummer's Heritage Concert 2002, Encyclopedia of Percussion, John H. Beck, Mark Reilly SFC, Markus Estermann, Swiss Drumming, The Old Guard, Top Secret Drum Corps