Monday, October 06, 2008

Temporary Notes (9)

Rudimentary, my dear. In grade school, I started playing trombone the way most wind players probably begin, without private lessons, but with a group of other beginners on winds and percussion, preparing to join a band. One of the great advantages to this, is that the alert student picks up much about each of the other instruments. In my case, I learned all the trumpet valve combinations and clarinet or saxophone fingerings, and, listening to a pair of drummers slowly master their snare drum rudiments — the building bricks of drumming: strokes, bounces, rolls, flams, paradiddles, drags, ruffs, and ratamacues —, repeating them over and over again with increasing velocity was like overhearing the secret code of an ancient and most mysterious craft. (Here's a nice online rudiment collection).

One of the most exciting things about the rudiments was that the names often sounded like the rhythms themselves, and one could learn them not only by playing on a snare drum or practice pad, but spoken, a rhythmic solfege. (There are a number of traditions in the world for the vocalization of rhythms, and the most highly developed is probably that of Solkattu, used by South Indian musicians (here's an excellent introduction to Solkattu), which many western musicians have usefully integrated into their rehearsal technique.) I'd really like to see the traditional snare drum rudiments further developed as a vocalization system to help with learning complex rhythms. In any case, the body of rudiments is extremely useful to a composer in imagining how percussion parts are articulated, and time spent with a percussionist or learning them oneself is time well-spent.

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