Dave Elitch on Drum Rudiments

Posted on January 21, 2024

 Dave Elitch Rudiments

It’s time for the first rant and rave of the year! And to nobody’s surprise, we’re back to the rudiments, since the universe has blessed me with something interesting to talk about. 

The impetus comes from drummer Dave Elitch, who this past Tuesday went on Instagram and posted a short rant about the rudiments that has gotten everyone in a tizzy. Honestly, I don’t know much about Dave Elitch, other than he’s an educator based out of LA who’s played with a number of big acts and who has taught many other drummers. Like many modern educators who spend a lot of time on Instagram, he seems to be polarizing.

Dave Post’s was a photo of a Stanley Spector* quote, the same one I shared on my site back in 2022. I found the quote from a Todd Bishop article about Spector, and Dave appears to have taken a screenshot from Todd’s post. The following spiel originally came from a letter Spector wrote to Modern Drummer for the February–March 1980 issue:

Would you imagine in your wildest hallucination that a jazz or rock drummer of yesterday or today could derive artistic stimulation and creative preparation through a method of drumming accepted in 1869 as a Manual of Instruction by the United States Army? When you sit down at the practice pad every day and go through the 26 rudiments of drumming to build up your “technique” so that you may better express your “ideas” what you are actually practicing is the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor approved by John A. Rawlings, Secretary of War, War Department, Washington, D.C. 111 years ago. That was years before the invention of the bass drum pedal, hi-hat cymbals, wire brushes, and the discovery of the rim shot. It was years before Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet and discovered that when he blew in one end that jazz music came out the other end. When I see that the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor came off the press at a printing shop located at 284 Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut, I get the feeling that somebody is trying to tell us something. 

Is it reasonable to suppose that in the present age of space travel, atomic energy, and television that what was good for a Board of Officers meeting at Fort Columbus, New York Harbor in 1869 is still relevant for the jazz or rock drummer? Are we to believe that Major General G. L. Hartsuff, Brigadier General H. D. Walden, and 1st Lieutenant E. O. Gibson, the officers of that board knew where it was at with drumming for all-time when they decided that the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor had to replace Upton’s Tactics because the latter was “deficient in preliminary instruction” for training drummers and fifers of the United States Army in the Army Camp Duty of 111 years ago?

In his post, Dave writes:

I had a student send me some quotes by Stanley Spector who was a drum teacher that’d I’d previously never heard of before. He sounded like an interesting character and I still can’t decide if he was nuts or not because it’s hard to find a lot of information about him other than secondhand blurbs here and there.

I did however, come across this quote circa 1980 from him in regard to his opinion about rudiments and I couldn’t agree more. 

I’ve always thought that there has been far too much emphasis on rudiments as a topic of study and how they are fundamentally out dated and largely irrelevant in regards to playing the drum set in a contemporary music setting in the 20th, let alone 21st century. You want to play drum corps or pipe band? Go for it, just don’t fool yourself into thinking it has anything to do with playing the drums. It doesn’t. 

It’s imperative that we make smart choices when it comes to what we choose to practice. So many times when I’m working with someone, they are working on things simply because they can’t do them and that’s not a good enough reason in my book.

A couple days later, Dave made a video extrapolating his thoughts:

Since I kind of avoid ever going on Instagram, I actually heard about this from Reddit, and unsurprisingly, not many in the comments were taking his side. Personally, I… kind of sort of understand where Dave is coming from. Kind of. 

I suppose have a bit of a contrarian opinion regarding the rudiments, which I first explained back in 2021. The modern rudiment list has a lot of problems. Now, some rudiments are undoubtedly useful to a drum set player — the single and double stroke rolls need no introduction, and we all love the paradiddle. 

But for every paradiddle, there’s a triple ratamacue. Or a drag paradiddle № 2. Or an inverted flam tap. Or a fifteen stroke roll. AKA rudiments that don’t really get used by drum set players, for one reason or another. And that really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Everything Stanley wrote in his letter is true, and as such, it’s easy to have a cynical view of the drum rudiments.

Yes, the rudiments are old — many of them were invented no later than the 1800s, years before the modern drum set came together. Rudiments were chiefly made for drumlines, not the drum set, and anyone who has spent serious time in both will tell you that, at higher and higher levels, the two disciplines have less and less in common.

As I discussed in my 2021 rant, any rudiment list is inherently subjective, which is why we have the omission of essential patterns things like the puh–duh–duh, and the inclusion of contrived nonsense like the single stroke four. 

You also have to consider that the drummers responsible for our rudiments aren’t individually known to modern players, mainly because they don’t have much of a legacy outside of “having been involved in the creation of a rudiment list.”

There are exceptions of course, like NARD’s GL Stone and William F Ludwig. But I highly doubt the average drummer in 2024 could name one of the other 11 drummers involved in the founding of NARD. Of course, the NARD list is heavily based on Gardiner Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor. Who’s Gardiner Strube you may ask? Why, he’s the guy who wrote Gardiner Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor!

When it comes to the PAS list of 40, those responsible are literally anonymous, with the sole exception of Jay Wanamaker. But yet, we hold all of these opinions in high regard. 

So… what we seemingly have here is an arbitrary, often inscrutable hodgepodge of marching licks which are typically hundreds of years old, curated by a relatively small group of mostly unknown percussionists, who’ve created two unnecessarily terse pages of music capped at 40 patterns (or 26 if you’re some sort of rudiment originalist), which has nonetheless taken over the practice routines of many drummers, providing the only reason to ever play some of these patterns. That… sounds kind of screwy, doesn’t it?

And to be clear, those are all legitimate concerns, concerns that many drummers don’t like to talk about or even acknowledge. But to be fair, it should be noted that these issues don’t just apply to the rudiments. 

Think of something like Stick Control; it was not written by a drum set player, it’s almost 90 years old, and it does show its age in some respects (mainly its emphasis on buzz rolls), and the author is most famous for being the guy who wrote Stick Control. But I would still recommend every drummer go through Stick Control, and that’s not a controversial take. 

Dave seems to be caught up over the age of the rudiments, which is understandable, mainly in the context of how they were invented before the drum kit. One thing that caught my attention was he writes that rudiments are “largely irrelevant in regards to playing the drum set in a contemporary music setting in the 20th, let alone 21st century.”

I don’t think the have been waxing and waning periods of rudimental relevance for drum set players. Of course, the modern drum set has snowballed from the military marching snare drum of yesteryear, but the roles these two percussion disciplines fulfill in their ensembles have always been quite different. 

Here’s the kicker: are they different enough to warrant forsaking drum rudiments? Probably not. 

Rudiments can be frustrating because your mileage will vary with them, sometimes wildly. A lifetime can be spent mastering the paradiddle, but the single stroke seven, as written, is dumb. The trouble is that the only way you’d truly know for yourself is to seriously explore them.

Despite my ambivalence to many of the rudiments, I have spent a lot of time practicing them, to the point where I can list all of them from memory and demonstrate the world’s most useless party trick. 

I had my stint in a drumline, and I’ve gone through probably half a dozen rudiment books cover to cover, with many more I’d like to go through. My overall favorite remains Matt Savage’s Rudimental Workshop, which I value not just for rudimental instruction, but because it also drills reading ability and the skills of nailing dynamics and tempo changes.  

After going through all these books, I know without a doubt that I will do very little on a drum set with most of the rudiments. But I don’t regret going through those books, and I certainly don’t regret doing drumline. (It does have its limits — trying to join the snareline of a World Class drum corps in 2024 is not an efficient strategy to get good on the kit. Put another way, being good on the kit will not get you a spot marching with the Blue Devils.) 

It’s tough for me to come to any conclusions about the rudiments insofar as they don’t have “anything to do with playing the drums.” The skills endowed by many rudiments can feel abstract, and that’s a tempting reason to eschew them. But again, it’s a problem that persists throughout drumming literature. 

There are several famous drum books out there that can feel so far removed from what you realistically do on a kit that you’ll wonder if there’s a point in practicing them. An infamous example is 4–Way Coordination, and I’d argue Advanced Techniques probably belongs in the same category.

I think the crux of Dave’s post is when he says, “It’s imperative that we make smart choices when it comes to what we choose to practice.”

Rudiments can be important, but just how important is difficult to answer. The professional drummers out there who have earned praise run the gamut in terms of technical ability, which appears to counter the insistence that rudiments are paramount to every player on a kit. My guiding principle is “practice what you play”, and I’ve already made my mind up when it comes to the things I want to work on. But I’m no teacher. 

I do sincerely believe that playing along to a gap click offers more to a drum set player than mastering the single flammed mill. If I couldn’t find much time to practice, I would just focus on playing the music from my bands, since that’s what I ultimately need to be good at. It would be at the expense of rudiments, as well as most books and even speed drills. 

My main issue with the rudiments is that not only do they have problems that drummers don’t want to confront, but many drummers seem to misunderstand why rudiments exist. It always feels like it comes back to the comparison of rudiments to melodic scales. To that end, the intuitive counterpoint to the Stanley Spector quote is, “Well, the major scale is old, and nobody knows who invented it, so is it not relevant to modern players?”

It’s an interesting point, but I have always found this comparison to be erroneous. Everyone likes to say that rudiments and scales are similar because “neither one is music.” The only problem is that rudiments on their own are most definitely music. You can see this if you’ve ever been through an old rudiment manual, such as the aforementioned Strube book, which presents a flurry of duties and calls:

Each call on that page has two rudiments each; either flams and a long roll, or flams and a seventeen stroke roll. Nothing has been extrapolated into a more complicated lick because each rudiment manages to have its own musical purpose. Yes, this is music! Maybe not especially interesting to you or me, but we’ve already covered that ground.

There’s also the contention that rudiments are like scales because they both are worth practicing for technique. Rudiments may happen to be good for technique, but it’s incidental — that’s not why they exist. These licks have been compiled because they historically have had intrinsic musical meaning.

At least, some of them do. You can’t deny that the list of 40 is torn between really basic strokes like singles and more built–out patterns like the flam drag.

We also should clear up some definitions. As I’ve mentioned in my earlier rant, a scale is just an ordered sequence of notes. Almost anything can be a scale, such as C, F, B♭. 

It’s true — that’s a Sansagari scale. At least, it is according to this website, which lists thousands of scales

Now, what’s a drum rudiment? I can think of three definitions:

  1. A rudiment is some sort of basic stroke or pattern involving the hands; “basic” apparently means something really simple like the single stroke roll, as well as something much more intricate like an inverted flam tap.
  2. A rudiment is any kind of short lick or pattern that happens to have a common name. This would include everything from singles and paradiddles to puh–duh–duhs and Swiss drags. Maybe even quad drum set fills.
  3. A rudiment is what the Percussive Arts Society has determined to be a rudiment. 

All in all, I would prefer definition 2, and I’m sure many others would. But I feel like in reality, № 3 is probably the most commonplace. When someone says “Go practice your rudiments”, I have no doubt what they have in mind is, at most, the 40 rudiments as delineated by the PAS in 1984. 

Many people shot back at Dave by name–dropping famous drummers who are reputed to have rudimental rearing. But this cuts both ways, as you could name other talented drummers who are not known to have a strong rudimental background. You could also bring up “groove” drumming, which many people insist is supposed to be inspirational, somehow. Last I checked, four on the floor is not a rudiment.

Perhaps there’s just a correlation that drummers who practice rudiments also happen to be very talented at drumming. But I don’t like the somewhat flippant conclusion that rudiments are important because Steve Gadd.

I do have to wonder what the average drummer’s conceptualization of rudimental drumming is. The longer I’ve spent on the internet, the more I’ve become convinced that most drummers don’t go past page five of Stick Control, which makes me wonder how far the average drummer ventures into the rudiment list, let alone how many pick up some relevant books.

The advice around practicing rudiments is typically pretty lousy, which no doubt steers a lot of people away. Todd wrote an article about Dave’s post and discusses commenters “helpfully pointing out that pursuing the rudiments in a monomaniacally monofocused way that no one actually advocates doing, will not make you groove. True that!”

I suppose Todd is talking about famous, respected educators, but if you troll through the depths of online drumming discussions, you’ll find plenty of people who think practicing rudiments over and over again is truly helpful. At the very least, the glib instruction to “practice rudiments” is a mind–numbing mantra for many.

Hooookay, this has turned into one of my longer articles, and I do realize that I’ve used Dave’s post as a vessel for my own opinions, so let’s wrap this up.

Drum rudiments do annoy me in many ways, whether it be the reasonable issues I’ve brought up, or the uncritical, almost pontifical embrace amongst drummers who don’t seem to know much about them (let alone how to learn and practice them). All that being said, I can’t imagine I’ll ever swear off rudiments. I just want drummers to understand them and realize that, yes, the lesson 25 is only a thing because two dozen or so people from the 20th century said it should be, but it will never be critical to you as a drum set player. Which is fine.

None of those drawbacks are dealbreakers on their own. Something isn’t bad just because it’s old, and techniques from one percussion discipline aren’t innately useless to another.

If you truly want to learn these things, start with the Matt Savage book. Two great additional resources into the world of rudimental drumming are Rudimental Grand Tour and Encyclopedia Rudimentia, both written by my fellow CU alumnus Ryan Bloom. There’s also Ryan’s website, which I’ve linked to many times — he knows as much about the rudiments as any modern player.

On that note, to those who sing the praises of the rudiments, please know the ins and outs of them. I’ll never forget a well–known music YouTuber who featured a drummer prattling on about how important rudiments are before proceeding to forget if the triple stroke roll is actually a rudiment. Walk the walk people!

* I must point out that, if you Google “Stanley Spector drums”, you’ll find a website that seemingly offers his old lessons from the 20th century. Stanley has been dead for over 30 years, and the guy running that site is apparently a total hack who has been accused of stealing all of the materials to sell himself, without permission. So... don’t pay up. 

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