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How to Play Drum Rudiments In A Musical Way

Ever since I was a kid learning to play the drums, I’ve been aware of the debate about rudiments. Many drummers argue that rudiment can be detrimental to your feel and musicality, stating that while a routine based solely on rudiments may make you technically proficient, it can hurt your ability to express feelings and be creative.

That statement can be partially true. No one wants to base a practice routine exclusively on rudiments. However, Rudiments are the foundation of virtually everything that we play on the drum set. 

Rudiments for drummers are the equivalent to scales for a piano player. They offer us an organized way to learn how to coordinate and control our hands. Also, they are one of the most important pieces of western drumming legacy. Even still today, they keep evolving, and drummers from all around the world keep coming up with new ideas and hybrid rudiments. 

That being said, I am a strong believer that rudiments have to be an important part of our learning routine. They are not going to affect our creativity or feeling; they are not the ones defining our playing. They are just a tool. How we use them is the issue here.

More often than not, I get students asking me, “What do I do with the rudiments? I know them all, but I feel like I never use them,” or “I don’t know how to use them.”

The idea that you never use the rudiments is completely wrong. Every time you sit at your drum-set you are using some kind of rudiment. Single stroke roll is a rudiment for instance, and even the most beginner drummer out there has played a fill using singles, alternating right hand and left hand. 

However, there are more complex rudiments, which might need a bit of effort and creativity to apply them to the drum set. And that is what we are going to be discussing in this lesson.

I’m going to break down two rudiments for you and put them to use as part of my comping and/or solo vocabulary. Hopefully, by doing so, you’ll get ideas on how to go over other rudiments from the Percussive Arts Society International Rudiment List

Before we start checking out the rudiments, I want to talk about something, which if you have been following my lessons, you should be familiar with by now.

To put the rudiment into use at the drum set, we need to think about them creatively; we need to think outside the box and find ways to transform them from their original form (in some cases) to make them work on the set.

So we are going to be using some of the same concepts which I’ve discussed in my previous lesson “How To Get The Most Out of Your Drum Solo Transcription” and we going to use those to help us transform the rudiments. And they are:

1. Rate 

It means changing the original rate of the rudiment for another one. For instance, if the rudiment in its original form is in 8th notes, we can change it to 16th notes.    

2. Orchestration

It is the specific part of different areas of the drum set on which we are going to be playing the rudiment. For instance, moving the rudiment from the snare drum to a tom-toms, or cymbals and bass drum. 

3. Add/Subtraction

This concept means that we are going to add or subtract one or more notes from the original rudiment in order to make it work better in the set or to make it sound more musical.       

Let’s get to work:

Swiss Army Triplet

This rudiment as it is works perfectly in jazz settings. In its original form, it is based on 8th note triplets.

Ex. 1 

 Now, let’s use some of the concepts listed above and see what happens:


By changing the rate to 8th notes, we come up with a two bar phrase. It is an interesting one because it creates a 3 against 4 polyrhythmic feel. This one works perfect for up-tempo tunes. 

Ex. 3

Here again, another rate change, this time to 16th notes. It is similar to the one before but at a faster rate. This phrase works like a charm in medium and medium up swing.

Now let’s orchestrate some of these ideas:

Ex. 4

For this one, we are splitting the flam between the snare drum and the cymbal. The right hand is going to go back and forth between the two sources.

Ex. 5

This one is the same orchestration, and the difference is that we displaced the flam to the last 8th note of the triplet.

Ex. 6

Now, instead of using the cymbal, we are going to be playing the flam between the snare drum and the tom-toms.

For the next example, I’ll be adding notes to the rudiment. By doing so, I’ll create a new phrase, related to the swiss army triplet, but with an entirely different feel.

Ex. 7

As you notice, I added an extra left hand at the end of the rudiment, It became a 4 notes phrase, within the triplet phrasing. This creates an illusion of modulating to a slower tempo. However, it is just a 3 against 4 polyrhythmic phrase.

Ex. 8

And now I’m swapping the extra left hand for a bass drum stroke.

In the video below, I’ll demonstrate all the examples, and also I’ll play a short solo using some of the ideas discussed so far. Check it out:

Remember, I only orchestrate and/or used the adding/subtracting concepts in the 8th note triplet (Original Form) Swiss Army rudiment. But you should go and experiment with the other rates: 8th notes and 16th notes.

Ok, Let’s go and apply the same concepts to the other rudiment:

Six-Stroke Roll

The six-stroke roll is another great rudiment for jazz. We don’t need to modify it much to make it swing.

Its original form was debatable when I was a kid, and I first learned it in a triplet form. Later, when I got into the classical music world, I was told It was a combination of 16th and 32nd notes. We’ll go over both though. But for now, let’s use the triplet one as the original form.

Ex. 9

As you can see, as is, it would work great in jazz. But, let’s change the rate and see what we can come up with:

Ex. 10

Another cool phrase, ideal for medium, medium-up tempos. Again, changing the rate creates a polyrhythmic phrasing, 3 against 4.

Ex. 11

Here is a phrase that looks incredibly simple, but it would work fantastic on really up tempos (280bpm and up).

Ex. 12

This one is again the debatable original form of this rudiment. But as I said before, since I first learned it as a triplet form, that is why I choose this one as the original.

Ex. 13

This is another way to play this great rudiment; 8th note triplet, and 16th note triplets. This one is a bit complicated. Nevertheless, it does sound great on a medium tempo. Notice the 3 against 4 phrasing.

Okay, we have the rate thing down, now let’s orchestrate some of those ideas:

Ex. 14

Here we have the original form orchestrated between the snare drum and the floor tom.

Ex. 15

Here is a nice phrase, six-stroke roll played on 8th notes and orchestrated on cymbals and bass drums. A nice one to play on up tempos.

Ex. 16

In this one, I’m adding two bass drum notes right after the six-stroke roll. It becomes an 8 stroke phrase. In 8th notes, it works nicely for up-tempos

Now, check out the video below. I’ll be playing all the examples in here and in the end, I’ll demonstrate in a short solo some of the phrases explained here.

Again, remember I only applied the Orchestration and Add/subtract concepts to a few different rates I touched on here. Go and try them out on all of them. The number of variations you can get out of only these two rudiments is pretty remarkable.

There are 38 more rudiments in the PAS list, so time to get to work.

Remember to leave a comment or contact me through Facebook or Instagram if you have questions.

See you guys in the next one.

Diego Maldonado
Diego is a professional jazz drummer, composer, and educator. He is originally from Venezuela and currently living in New York City. He attended The Collective School of Music and The City College of New York where he earned, with honors, a Bachelor degree in Jazz Performance.Diego has become an active member of the exciting city’s jazz scene, both as a performer and educator, playing with artists such as Will Vinson, Doug Weiss, Kenny Werner, Tim Hagans, Mike Holober, Mimi Jones, Lukas Gabric, Josiah Boornazian, Antonio Mazzei, Brent Vaartstra, Coyote Anderson, among many others.Diego is an Agean Cymbals and Vater Percussion Artist.


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