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Written Snare Drum Music and the Rudiments

In the 1500's the Dutch were the first to make a recognizably modern snare drum. Snares were removed from the top head and more snares wre put on the bottom head. During this time the snare drum rudiments, fundamental playing techniques, started to become standardized. In the late Renaissance period the first written works about percussion technique began to appear.

One of the most influential works was Orchesography: A Treatise written by French priest Thoinot Arbeau around the year 1588. Arbeau was one of the first people to ever write down drum music. Before Arbeau percussion music was rarely if ever written. The book was a comprehensive work that had information on drumming for both military and dance music (Hartsough & Logozzio, Aug. 1994, p. 50).

Snare drum technique is built on what are known as the rudiments. A wind player may practice various scales and arpeggios as a way to work the technical side of playing. On the snare drum the rudiments are practiced instead of scales and arpeggios. The names of the rudiments seem to be made up of some foreign language that only snare drummers know. In actuality the names of the rudiments are often a phonetic representation of what the rudiment is supposed to sound like (G. B. Peters, 1975, p. 36).

The principles behind the rudiments are very simple. Rudiments are combinations of four specific actions: single strokes, accented single strokes, double bounces, and multiple bounces. Multiple bounces are exclusive to rolls. Rolls are the sustaining agent of snare drum sound. As many bounces as can be played at one time are played when doing a multiple bounced, or "buzzed" roll. Double bounces are what make up the more familiar rudimental roll. All the other rudiments are combinations of double bounces and single strokes with the addition of specific stickings, accents, rhythms, or grace notes.

Rudiments are played open (slow) or closed (fast). Most rudiments are played with hand to hand stickings that produce alternating rudiments. A few rudiments specifically do not alternate so that a consistent sound may be produced. Rudiments are also played inverted, starting on the off beat instead of the down beat. Playing some rudiments inverted changes the character of alternation.


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Julie D. Moncada

jmoncada@hotmail.com