Drum Rudiments — The Inversions

Posted on August 13, 2023

 Rudiment Inversions

Here’s the thing: you know I have a... complicated relationship with most of the rudiments, and that I think the incessant priority drum set players give them in the 21st century can be unjustified. But I will concede that there is something neat hiding in many of the rudiments. It’s actually something that you could do with most licks, but the rudiments are an easy way to demonstrate it. 

We’re all familiar with the single paradiddle: RLRR LRLL. What’s not so well–known is that there are four ways of playing the single paradiddle. Using 16th notes, just rearrange the sticking:

If you’re confused about what’s going on, follow the sticking starting with an accent. Everything is still RLRR LRLL, we’re just starting on a different subdivision:

Now, what do we call these variations? For years, I’ve been calling them “permutations”, but I recently realized that’s not a good term. A true permutation of RLRR would include things like RRRL and LRRR, neither of which are any spin on the paradiddle. 

“Inversion” is probably the better word. Inversion is already used in music to describe rearranging the notes in a chord. The standard C major chord has the notes C E G. Playing the triad as E G C puts the chord in its first inversion (often named “C on E”), while G E C would be the second inversion (C on G):

So then, we have four paradiddle inversions, some of which have names… kinda. Per usual, drummers can’t agree on what to call anything — I learned RLLR LRRL as an inverted paradiddle, but many call it a reverse paradiddle since the accent would fall on the last note instead of the first: RLLR LRRL. This is still unclear since you can reverse the sticking of the paradiddle instead of the accent, giving you RRLR LLRL.

It would be nice to take a lead from descriptions of harmony and label the different paradiddles as first inversion, second inversion, etc. We don’t really do that in drum land, probably because it would be a good idea — in any case, what I have today are inversions from the PAS list of 40 rudiments, made by shuffling the sticking rightward.

I’m sharing a big PDF that has as many rudimental inversions as I can reasonably present; we must keep in mind that some rudiments don’t really invite themselves to this kind of extrapolation. For instance, the seven stroke roll works nicely with a 16th note pulsation, and can be inverted as such:

However, the nine stroke roll is usually written as two quarter notes — one count of roll, then an accented beat:

Inversions can only reasonably be conceptualized if you rework the rudiment into a quintuplet lick:

It’s still a nine stroke roll, just an awkward one. 

The single stroke roll is so basic that it’s exempt from this exercise, while the buzz roll doesn’t even have metered strokes, so forget about that one too. Moreover, things like the lesson 25, the other single stroke rudiments, and most of the drag rudiments (e.g. the ratamacues) don’t quite work with this.

Still, many rudiments do. In addition to presenting the different inversions, I’ll often provide a fun combination drill, where you play each inversion one after another in sequence, following the 4–2–1 paradigm. Here’s the paradiddle drill — I changed the order of the inversions to make the exercise flow better:

This is similar to a grid drill, but it’s not the same thing. Grid drills involve keeping the sticking the same while moving an accent around, also following a 4–2–1 pattern. Here’s the paradiddle grid:

Grid exercises can be fun (and heinously difficult), but they’re typically easier to conceptualize. In any case, it’s not the focus of today’s topic.

I quite like using the inversion combinations as a warmup — the paradiddle drill is very fun. I haven’t considered many other rudiments though. That changes today. 

Some rudiment inversions don’t work well as a combination drill, either because they’re difficult to string together gracefully, or the drills become so long they stop feeling like exercises and start feeling like convoluted snare drum etudes. FYI, there exist as many inversions as there are subdivisions within the rudiment (not counting grace notes or doubles played as tremolo slashes).

So there you go. Have fun, and don’t hurt yourself. Hopefully, you’ll see that you can do this with many other licks such as hertas or even drum set fills like quads. 

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