Saturday, May 10, 2008

Is it Ruff to Drag or a Drag to Ruff?"

[Ed. Note: This article contributed by Robin Engelman, Toronto, Canada (the article is in the form of a letter from Robin Engelman to a friend and drum teacher; for Robin's contact information, please email the blogmaster)]

From the top and going clockwise: a Cooperman bass drum (1976);
Cooperman "Rennaisance" drum modeled on Flemish drum, special order (2005) sitting on floor; Walberg & Auge (1889-90); Eames field snare (1976); and a Cooperman drum that is owned by a friend of Robin Engelman.

Former students of Robin Engelman with (from left to right): Cooperman Bass drum (1976), Walberg & Auge (1889-90), Cooperman field snare w/narrow hoops inlaid w/ mother of pearl (2005), Eames field snare (1976), Cooperman "Rennaisance" drum modeled on Flemish drum, special order (2005).


"Is it Ruff to Drag or a Drag to Ruff?"
Robin Engelman
Friday November 3, 2007

Today the Percussive Arts Society ("PAS") endorses 64 snare drum Rudiments as being essential for achieving an accomplished snare drum technique: "40 PAS International Drum Rudiments" plus 24 "Contemporary Hybrid Rudiments".

This represents an exponential growth in the number of rudiments since 1933 when the National Association of Rudimental Drummers ("NARD") adopted the 25 rudiments in Gardiner A. Strube's "Drum and Fife Instructor" (1869), and added the Single Stroke Roll to make 26, of which 13 were declared "Essential". But this growth appears less dramatic when viewed from an historical perspective: approximately 40 rudiments were in use between 1777 when George L Winters "Kurze Answiesug das Trommel-Spielen" was published (Berlin) and 1869 (Gardiner A. Strube) though some of them had interchangeable names which makes determining the exact number in use during those years problematical.

This brief history will be of interest to those who believe that all snare drum technique is based on the control of only four strokes; some say three, others five. From the earliest days of drum notation in the west (Arbeau, Thoinot; "Orchesography,15th and 16th Century Dances", 1588, Dover Publications, New York) to James Campbell's "Rudiments in Rhythm", (Meredith Music Publications, MD, 2002), all the beatings are composed of these basic strokes: down, up, tap, bounce, and the grace note in a flam.

The legendary John H. (Jack) Pratt does not endorse the word "rudiment" at all, preferring to call the variations of these four strokes "exercises".

What is the difference between Ruffs and Drags? First, Ruff and Drag are words. To begin untangling the twists in semantics and notations that have evolved, one should have a list of the modern PAS rudiments (James Campbell) and the old green NARD book.

In The NARD list of "The 13 Essential Rudiments . . .", only numbers 8-The Ruff, 9-The Single Drag and 10-The Double Drag concern us. Compare the notation of these three rudiments with the notation in the Campbell book, page 10.

In the Campbell book, no. 31, the Drag, has the same notation as no. 8, the Ruff, in NARD.

No. 32, Single Drag Tap, the same as no. 9, the Single Drag, in NARD.

And the notation of no. 33 in Campbell, Double Drag Tap, is the same as no. 10 the Double Drag, in NARD.

(The word Ruff does not appear in the PAS list of rudiments, but why the compilers did not call no. 31 "Single Drag" is beyond me.)

Through the years both of these rudiments (or exercises) have undergone name changes. The earliest reference to a Ruff comes from a manuscript titled "Thomas Fisher Version" dated by the British Museum, 1634. Of the six rudiments illustrated in that document, although they are not called rudiments, four are ruffs: “Full Ruff”; “1/2 Ruff”; “Stroke and ruff”; and “a ruff and a half joined together”. The remaining two are single strokes "L (left) hand” and “R (right) Hand”. All indications are in words and letters. No notation is given.

The next example is not dated, but it is believed to originate in the mid- to late 1600s and is titled "The grounds of beating ye drum". That one page manuscript was discovered attached to the back of a book owned by one Francis Ducet. The following words appear among the descriptions of strokes: a "half ruffe"; a "whole ruffe"; and a "ruffe n half". Sometimes those words are combined with others to form a rudiment of greater duration.

The interest in that manuscript stems from its author's use of hieroglyphics to aid memory. For instance, i = "a plain stroak"; CC is a "ruffe and half with a stroak"; H "is a stroke with both sticks together"; a /C is a "half ruffe beginning loud and ending loud"; and a gradually diminishing circle-spiral- means "continually rowling". The "Ducet Manuscript" contains 11 rudiments/exercises in hieroglyphics.

In "The Revolutionary War Drummer's Book"; (Massachusetts Historical Society, cir. 1778-1810) one finds 18 rudiments/exercises and among them: the 3-stroke roll; a stroke and two strokes; a ruff 1, 2, 3, 4 quick from hand-to-hand.

The Drag first appears as "Draggs" in "Young Drummer's Assistant", (London, cir. 1779-1784). Then the Drag and Double Drag appear in Benjamin Clark's Drum Book", (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1797).

Between the years 1810 and 1869, ten snare drum and fife method books were published in North America. Most field drummers agree that the Bruce and Emmett "Drummer's and Fifer's Guide" (Wm. A. Pond & Co., New York City, 1862) represents the perfect marriage of drum and melody. It is the first snare drum book written in "modern notation"[see comment below] and it contains 30 rudiments/exercises. Among these are: “The Ruff”; “The Single Drag”; “The Double Drag”; “Half and Full Drags”; “Tap Ruff”; and “Half Drag Taps”.

(A close inspection of the Bruce and Emmett book will add another dimension to understanding the saga of drags and ruffs. Indeed, that book may have been used as a guide by the Percussive Arts Society compilers.)

Further inspection of those and other manuscripts show that nomenclature and notation have changed significantly through the years as drummers and composers came to grips with the strange, non-pitched sounds and ambiguous strokes of the drum. Those changes in name and notation continue today, but are aided by high-tension plastic/kevlar drum- heads that provide reliable clarity, particularly for judges of competitions.

I hope this helps. It's a bit long winded, there's still much more, but it is of interest only to finicky people and certainly to me. If there is more I can do, please call or E-mail. At present I am putting a history of the field drum - its music, military & ceremonial uses - with pictures and music in Keynote. I'm getting close to completion. Next April (2008) I'll present it to Jim Campbell and his class and next September I'll present it over two days to percussionists in Sweden and the members of the Swedish Military Academy in Stockholm.

My warm regards to you and yours and your students,



At June 21, 2008 at 11:41 PM , Blogger Renee said...

Robin emailed today noting:

I visited your web site today and was delighted by the presentation of the materials I sent you. (I'd change one statement: ". . . the first drum method in modern notation." I've since found a book in modern notation published one year before the Bruce and Emmett.)


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