Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Military and Art Drumming, by Enes J. Nokes

Enes J. Nokes, one half of Boston's Nokes & Nicolai, was also an active performer and teacher. Below is an interesting article by Nokes comparing and contrasting rudimental and concert snare drumming. This essay was published originally in THE METRONOME on September 15, 1926.

The question often arises as to what differentiates military drumming from art drumming and why military drumming may not be considered art drumming as well. Another question which has been raised is why an art drummer is said to be able to play any military beat whereas even an excellent military drummer might not always be able to qualify as an art drummer.

Military drumming represents a skill developed originally for signaling purposes in the army and marking the step of soldiers on march whereas art drumming represents an adaptation of drum beats to musical figures. From these widely diversified sources two separate schools of drumming came into being. In some respects they were similar, in others, dissimilar. Each demanded much technical facility but the paths of the two schools diverged. One coordinated physical technic and dexterity with musicianship at every point whereas the other developed the physical technic and dexterity with musicianship at times a secondary consideration. The laurels lay with the art drumming because while in many cases it made no greater physical demands it adhered closer to true musical concepts. For the reason that military drumming frequently ignores musical principles the thoroughly schooled and musicianly drummer sometimes experiences difficulty with some of the military beats in that they violate his musical sense. The physical dexterity can soon be developed by any well schooled drummer but the unmusical attributes of certain of the beats can quite conceivably baffle the musician who possesses a well developed rhythmic sense.

An analysis of that military beat the single paradiddle will help to illustrate the foregoing. This beat consists of two alternating single strokes and one double stroke. Such a combination cannot produce the correct normal rhythm when applied to even notes of equal mathematical value with their accompanying relative stress values. In particular, there is a peculiar lilt to the paradiddle - a rhythm which does not coincide with natural musical rhythm. To discover the reason for this requires an analysis of the manner in which a paradiddle is produced. In a rapid sequence of notes, the fourth stroke of the paradiddle must necessarily be a bounce of the third stroke and in this respect is to more or less extent beyond the absolute control of the drummer. We therefore obtain three strokes under perfect control and one under limited control with a consequent sacrifice of perfect temporal evenness. Similarly, the proper stress values are to an extent beyond the control of the drummer.

The Six and Ten-Stroke Rolls are musically unrhythmical and are, therefore, seldom found in art music. The nearest approach to such "rolls" to be found in art music is what might be termed a "feint off" a stroke roll. This occurs when a stroke roll (five, seven, or nine) ends upon an accent and is followed rapidly by a single stroke.

The single and double drags and the single, double, and triple ratamacues are names only for combinations in rhythms characteristic of military drumming. Grouped as they are in these rhythms they are likely to be musically awkward especially the characteristic rhythm of the double drag. The nearest approach to a rhythm in art music similar to the triple ratamacue is to be found in Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Here the snare drum repeats a figure very similar to the triple ratamacue and requires the same technic. (The drum part of this composition was analyzed recently in an issue of THE METRONOME.)

The reader should not infer from the foregoing that because certain beats in military drumming are musically unrhythmical that this applies to all. For instance, the so called ratamacues are not inconsistent with the rhythmical demands of art music and while it is conceivable that the double drag would similarly not defy musical laws it nevertheless remains an awkward sounding rhythm. The paradiddles, however, are to musical rhythm what slang is in English. This will be clearly understood if the reader will compare the paradiddle to a similar effect produced on the trumpet. Let us suppose that a first class trumpet player is asked to play a sequence of rapid notes in double rhythm. For this he will use single tonguing unless the rhythm is extremely rapid in which case he may resort to double tonguing if he has not developed his single tonguing sufficiently. Ask him, however, for the sake of producing an effect similar to the paradiddle, to mix the tonguing by playing two singles and one double upon a group of four equal notes and he will produce a rhythm which is not legitimate even though it may be pleasing in its lilt. Such a combination of tonguing would surprise a good performer and would sound equally surprising to the trained listener.

If the drummer will but bear in mind the significance of these military beats together with the musical shortcomings of certain of them he will find in the rudimentary practice of them much valuable material for developing his technic. Many drummers feel that because military drumming is not wholly compatible with art drumming that it should be discarded. This is a misunderstanding of the case. Military drumming is distinct from art drumming and has a legitimate place. It is only when the military drummer without discretion and without musical education takes the technic of his military school "bodily" and indiscriminately into his orchestra playing that he errs and brings disparagement upon military drumming.

Because the drum so lends itself to faking, it is with difficulty that a high standing of drumming is maintained. Added to this is the regrettable fact that worthwhile literature upon the instrument is scarce. Composers, too, frequently err in writing for the drum and this in itself adds to the general chaos of misunderstanding surrounding the instrument. One may say that it is drawing the line to finely to differentiate between certain military beats and art beats but it is only by maintaining a strict line of demarcation between that which is musically legitimate and that which only approximates it that the technic of the drum and the literature concerning it can be raised to the level and standard existing for other orchestral instruments.