I knew the term “paradiddle” (though I had only a vague notion of what it was), but I had no idea there was such a variety of striking* terms for what drummers call “rudiments.” I found this list at The Discouraging Word; unsatisfied with the mere terms, I wanted to know what they meant, and found this site, where you can see and hear musical examples.

*When people say “no pun intended,” of course they mean “pun intended.”

Addendum. The Discouraging Word welcomes letters (Feb. 7 entry); in their (encouraging) words, “You should also send us examples of especially good or bad language use or, as faithful reader languagehat did with evident relish last week, point out our errors or other infelicities.” With relish, yes, but also respect and affection!


  1. Boy are you taking me back. These rudiments would come up in student auditions back when I used to take percussion lessons, and those who participated in serious marching bands or drum corps really had to master them. And did you know that Scottish pipe band drummers have a set of rudiments which are different from the normal set?

    If you really want to learn more about this stuff, here’s a bibliography of printed resources on rudiments.

    By the way, I notice that the page of references that you linked to is provided by the Vic Firth company. Firth is quite a guy. He’s spent over fifty years with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has taught many of the most celebrated percussionists performing today, and has created a company producing some of the finest drumsticks and mallets available. I’m pleased to note that my favorite drummer, Peter Erskine, praises Firth in this article celebrating the latter’s induction into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

    One more thing, while searching for more Scottish rudiment resources, I turned up this page which looks to be of general languagehatty interest 😉

    Paradiddle-diddle, paradiddle-diddle, flam-a-diddle, ratamacue! Ruff!,


  2. Songdog’s final link includes:

    >The fourteen sounds are recited at the upakarma ceremony. Since they
    >emanated from the drum of Mahesvara…, they are
    >called “Mahesvarasutras”….
    >…his cappu on the damaruka at the conclusion of his tandava sounded as
    >a series(garland) of fourteen letters:

    >1. a i un; 2. rlk; 3. e on; 4. ai auc; 5. hayavarat; 6. lan; 7. nama
    >nana nam; 8. jha bha n; 9. gha da dha s; 10. ja ba ga da da s; 11.
    >kha pha cha tha tha catatav; 12. kapay; 13. sa sa sar; 14. hal

    “Thanks for the information and the link. It does not say anything about how the world was created or how that could be understood from the sounds of the drum. But it relates the sounds of Siva’s drum to grammar quite well.

    “In this regard it reminds me of the jewish kabbalistic ‘Book of Creation’, supposedly authored by Abraham, the father of Judaism. This book seemingly predicts many features of string theory….

    “Here is what I see the connection to US military rudimental drumming is: In the system of this kind of drumming, which uses two sticks on one head, I can only produce three basic sounds- the single stroke, the double stroke and the flam, which is striking the drum with both stricks at the same time. Hindu drumming may have more basic sounds.

    “These basic sounds are like letters in an alphabet. In my drumming they are combined into strings of sounds that are called rudiments. In language they are called words…. In military drumming there are 26 accepted rudiments. But many more are currently used, borrowed from Swiss and Scottish drum rudiments. The number of possible combinations are actually infinite.

    “The sounds of Siva in this regard appear to be like rudiments or words. Now if we claim that each basic sound or letter is a dimension in the universe, then we are seemingly being told by Siva that the 14 first compactified dimensions are combined in different arrangemnts, rudiments or words, to create the natural laws that govern and guide the creative processes in the universe.”

    I think that clears up just about Everything, and I thank Songdog for the inspiring link!

  3. 😉 You’re welcome!

  4. I love the lingo of drumming. I subscribe to Modern Drummer magazine and have learned a lot. For example, “on the beat” and “on top of the beat” mean two different things. On top means “before” whereas means “in the center.” “Behind the beat” is exactly what it sounds like.

  5. "In the pocket" means precisely on the beat also, I believe.

    There are a lot of great equipment-related terms, too, many of which are drumming-specific applications of familiar words. To wit: you use a throne with your traps so that you can hit the kick. You use a tilter for a splash, crash, or ride, but you keep your hats in a clutch. More or less.

  6. “In the pocket,” as I understand it, does not mean precisely “on” the beat. It means that the drummer is making the music feel good. This might in fact be the result of “laying back” slightly, playing behind the beat. It would depend on the style of music. Maybe a better drummer than I am can correct me if I am wrong about this.

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