Tag Archives: John S. (Jack) Pratt

A Ruff Death, (1634-2008, Requiescat in pace)

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!!


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

PAS Rudiments 31, 32 and 33

PAS Rudiments 31, 32 and 33



[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.





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He Who Hesitates Can.

Alfons Grieder.

Alfons Grieder.

John S. (Jack) Pratt.

John S. (Jack) Pratt.

After the 2002 Drummers’ Heritage Concert my wife and I invited a few of the participants to our hotel room for some R & R.  Besides the pleasure of their company, I had an ulterior motive for gathering these gurus of field drumming. For many years a question had rankled my brain and now this assemblage offered a chance, perhaps my only one,  for my question to be definitively answered.

Among others our invitees included Alfons Grieder, world renowned Swiss Basel drummer; Dennis DeLucia. our concert moderator and himself a famous rudimental player and teacher; John S. (Jack) Pratt, legendary player and composer of “14 Modern Contest Solos”; and Doug Stronach, renowned teacher, and Scots drumming master. The majority of these artists had never before met though most had heard of each other.

After we all settled down and smiled a bit self consciously someone, I think it was Doug Stronach, asked why the Swiss drummers play the way they do – the strange wobble at the end of every measure?  Jack Pratt was first to jump in with an answer. “I’ve heard this is the result of drummers growing up in a mountainous country.  One foot is always lower than the other and so they developed this style from hobbling around the mountains while trying to play drums”. There were a few giggles and then Alfons Grieder spoke.

“I’ve always been told and always believed we play this way because beginning students hesitate before going over the bar line into the next measure”. Alfons was obviously serious. No giggles in the room this time. It seems one of our most honored drum traditions had developed because of student insecurities.

Everything was quiet for awhile so I decided this was the time to ask my question. “Why do many North American military field drummers hesitate before starting a 7 stroke roll that ends on a downbeat?” To demonstrate, I whistled the Yellow Rose of Texas, and accompanied myself by playing sevens on my knee.

Jack Pratt was again first to speak. “We do it because we can”.  And again the room was quiet. No rebuttals. Another master had spoken and I let the matter drop. Perhaps we dig to deeply, Sometimes answers are simple.

A few years later Jack and I had the pleasure of playing “Gingersnap” one of his greatest solos. We warmed up together in an Eastman school of music practice room. During our session I complained to Jack about his 7 stroke rolls. “Am I being a bad boy?” Jack asked.  “Yes” I said. “ It’s not that you’re hesitating on the sevens, it’s that you’re hesitating more and more as the piece goes on and I don’t know how to follow”. “I’ll be a good boy” Jack said.

At concert time he was better then good.  I doubt if I contributed much to the performance, but I managed to keep up with him. Playing with Jack that day is one of my fondest memories.  Looking over our shoulders were members of the United States Military Academy Field Music Unit “Hellcats”, a group Jack had led more than 30 years earlier. One of the “Hellcats” was David Smith (the younger) a former student of mine.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the hesitating style of playing 7 stroke rolls, click on the audio file below to hear the Lancraft Fife and Drum Corp of North Haven, Connecticut.


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