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A brief history of rudimental drumming

The history and evolution of rudimental drumming is a rich and fascinating subject that is deeply intertwined with the history of military music and drumming traditions around the world. Rudiments have been around for centuries, and their evolution and development can be traced back to the early drumming traditions of different cultures. In this blog you’ll find a brief overview of the history of rudimental drumming, based on John R. Raush’s research on the history of rudimental drumming.


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The birth and development of rudimental drumming: separating from military origins.

The term "rudiments" first appeared in an English language drum manual in Charles Stewart Ashworth's A New Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating, and it has since become synonymous with the basic building blocks of drumming. One of the most significant contributions to the field of rudimental drumming was The Drummers' and Fifers' Guide, coauthored by George B. Bruce and Daniel D. Emmett in 1862. According to John R. Raush, this manual is considered by many historians to be the "crown jewel" of early drum and fife manuals, as it gathered all the available information and notation from that time.


Rudimental drumming can be defined as a more advanced and technical form of drumming that involves a specific vocabulary of sticking patterns and techniques.

While rudimental drumming has its roots in military drumming, there are significant differences between the two. For this blog, we only focus on the history of just rudimental drumming. Military drumming is primarily used for signaling and providing a rhythmic foundation for marching (the army), whereas rudimental drumming can be defined as a more advanced and technical form of drumming that involves a specific vocabulary of sticking patterns and techniques. The history of military drumming as such, thus goes much further back in time.



The early roots and spread of rudimental drumming in Europa and America

One of the earliest examples of rudimental drumming comes from the Swiss, who developed a system of playing that involved many basic techniques and prescribed sticking vocabulary. The origins of rudimental drumming can largely be attributed to the city of Basle, Switzerland. Basle was founded over 2,000 years ago and became an important port on the Rhine River. Despite its development into a modern commercial center, for a long time the city has held onto its ancient customs and traditions to pass down to future generations.


The Swiss Army used fifes and drums to communicate on the battlefield as early as the 14th century (Battle of Sempach), but the style and sticking patterns were already more developed compared to other drumming traditions. Over the following centuries, Swiss mercenaries incorporated military drum signals into their foreign activities, spreading Swiss drum and fife marches throughout Europe. Several countries developed their own style, rooted in this Swiss sticking vocabulary. The French and Dutch rudimental drumming styles are prime examples of this evolvement of Swiss drumming traditions.


The origins of rudimental drumming can largely be attributed to the city of Basle, Switzerland.

The officers of the merchant guilds, responsible for the city's security, gained military experience in Swiss regiments abroad and brought back many of these signals and marches. The guilds became the center of Basle's social life, and the playing of drums and fifes gradually lost its military significance and became popular at social events, such as weddings, on holidays and even in churches.


In America, rudimental drumming was heavily influenced by the British techniques of drumming, which were taught to American soldiers during the Revolutionary period. The American military relied heavily on drum and fife music to communicate orders and boost morale. At that time, rudimental drumming was already spread over the European continent and developed for centuries. This style of drumming with its roots in the British style, known as "Down East Drumming," involved an open manner of playing and is still performed by some ensembles nowadays.


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Influential figures and corps that shaped modern rudimental drumming

Throughout the years, rudimental drumming has continued to evolve and develop, with many notable musicians and drum corps making significant contributions to this field. One of the most influential drummers in the history of rudimental drumming was Sanford A. Moeller, who developed a technique of drumming that focused on using a specific wrist motion in combination with the natural rebound of the drumstick to increase speed and accuracy. This had its consequences for the possibilities of new and more complicated sticking patterns as well.


Drum corps have pushed the limits of what is possible on a (marching) snare drum and have expanded the vocabulary of rudiments to include more complex and intricate patterns.

Drum corps such as (and among many others) the Boston Crusaders, Madison Scouts, Blue Devils and Bluecoats have also made significant contributions to the evolution of rudimental drumming. These drum corps have pushed the limits of what is possible on a (marching) snare drum and have expanded the vocabulary of rudiments to include more complex and intricate patterns as we know it from nowadays show music.



In conclusion, the history and evolution of rudimental drumming is a fascinating subject that is deeply intertwined with the history of military music and drumming traditions around the world. The contributions of notable armies, musicians and drum corps have helped to shape the field of rudimental drumming into what it is today, and it will undoubtedly continue to evolve and develop in the years to come. From the earliest battlefield drummers to the modern drum corps pushing the boundaries of what's possible on a snare drum, we see how the pursuit of technical mastery and creative expression has driven the evolution of this art form.


Whether on the battlefield or the parade ground, in concert halls or on the streets, the rhythms of rudimental drumming continue to resonate with us and inspire us, reminding us of our shared humanity and the universal language of music that connects us all. As we listen to the beat of the drums, let us not forget the rich history and cultural significance behind them, and the enduring legacy they leave for generations to come.

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