By Brad Schlueter

Rudiments are the drummer’s alphabet, which is why there were just 26 standard rudiments for many years. Rudiments are just sticking combinations that, once learned, enable you to execute musical phrases with surprisingly little effort. Here’s a look at five essential drum rudiments that are great chop builders, and also transfer well from the practice pad to the drum set.

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The key to improving your hands is to play with a good solid grip, practice slowly until the stickings are in your muscle memory, and you can play them with accurate dynamics, from very soft to extra loud. If you maintain good form, grip and spacing, and gradually push your tempos over a period of weeks, months and yes, years, great speed will come.

Brad Schlueter is a professional drummer and drum teacher, and has been a competitive rudimental snare drummer in multiple groups, serving as Drum Sergeant and competing in the Pipe Band World Championships.

Five Essential Drum Rudiments

1. Single Stroke Roll

Singles are the most common rudiment heard in rock music, but are a challenge to play quickly. Being born with an excess of fast twitch muscle fiber helps. They seem simple: RLRLRLRL. Some people advocate a loose grip that will allow the stick to bounce back into your hand. Some people “dribble” the stick with the fingers, using a technique called finger control. Others suggest a whipping motion called the Moeller stroke.

Still others advocate a much more controlled grip and stroke, which requires you to develop your muscles more and rely very little on rebound. Some generally safe advice is to start slowly, keeping the sticks at the same height, and gradually speed up. Mike Mangini, who has been recorded as the world’s fastest drummer at playing a single stroke roll, uses a controlled grip and wrists; his stroke averaging 19 notes a second for one minute straight. I believe Mangini is an alien.

2. Double Stroke Roll

Strong double strokes are the dividing line between drummers with solid technique and those without, and are essential for all the diddle (double-stroke) rudiments. They have a sticking of RRLLRRLL. Played quickly they have a machine gun quality and sound similar to single strokes but require much less exertion. A good way to learn them is to wrist them at slower speeds holding the stick securely with the back fingers and as speed increases, gradually release the back end of the stick, letting it rebound and bounce at higher speeds. This, you will find is easier said than done, but it is definitely time well spent.

3. Flams

Flams are frequently one of the most misunderstood rudiments. They are deceptively simple: lR or rL. A rudimental or orchestral flam has a soft grace note immediately preceding a louder, main note. Think of them as a way of thickening a note, rather than just making it louder. The width of the space between the two notes varies by musical style.

In rock music, flams are often played wrong, with no space or dynamic difference between the notes, and both notes played simultaneously, resulting in a “flat flam.” In Latin music, the width is much greater and the grace note is often played on a different drum than the main note. Trivia fact: Flams are named after the louder second note, not the softer first grace note. So a Right Flam is played lR.

4. Paradiddle

This is the sticking pattern that countless drummers have struggled to learn, and then once mastered, have no idea what to do with them. “Para” refers to a “pair of” singles and “diddle” means a double stroke. So a paradiddle is played: RlrrLrll. There is an accent played on the first note of each four-note group. Inverting paradiddles means to start the pattern on the second, third, fourth, etc., note of the pattern.

A common paradiddle inversion is Rllr Lrrl. Paradiddles can be used to create instant funk grooves by putting the right hand on the hi-hat and the left hand on the snare and dropping bass drum notes underneath. Keep the accent strong and it will sound much more funky and complicated than it is.

5. Six Stroke Roll

The six stroke roll has a sticking of: RllrrL or LrrllR, with an accent played on the first and last notes. The first version of the two is much more common. Rudimental drummers traditionally have played the first note as a sixteenth and the remaining five notes as thirty-seconds, creating a pause after the first tap followed by a five stroke roll, while drum set players tend to play the pattern as sixteenth note triplets with all notes equally spaced. One very cool lick is to play the first note on the floor tom, next four (the two doubles) on the snare, and the last note on the high tom. Thank you, Steve Gadd.