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Conga Rudiments

Hand-drum players who also play drumset or marching snare will be familiar with a set of drum strokes known as rudiments (rude-uh-ments). These are the basic strokes for the snare drum of which there are 13 basic patterns and 13 standard extended patterns. There is an American standard naming and numbering system for these 26 rudiments. While hand-drum playing is somewhat different from the bouncy action of sticks upon a tight snare drum head, nevertheless many top conga players such as Giovanni Hidalgo practice rudiments regularly to gain speed and control. Certain of the rudiments clearly apply directly to developing conga technique.

The simplest rudiment which represents the most elementary way of playing hand-drums would be a simple alternating of the hands: R L R L R L R L R L R…etc.

This is known as rudiment #14, or the Single Stroke Roll. However, hand-drums are different from snare drums in that the player has a choice of sounds or "notes" at his/her disposal. Therefore, the hand-drum student should practice rudiment #14 (and indeed all the applicable rudiments) a number of different ways.

The first variation as should be obvious would be to practice as written starting with the right hand and then reverse the hands starting the pattern with the left hand. Start your practice with the pattern using all of the same drum notes. For example, one might commonly practice using all open tones. But then one should be sure to repeat the procedure using all bass notes or all slap tones. Finally, one can practice mixing up the tones such as going bass, bass, tone, tone, slap, slap, etc. for the single stroke roll. Other variations can be used in any combination the student invents. Finally, we would suggest that the rudiments also be practiced using heel-toe rather than L-R hands. Again, this should be practiced with first the left and then the right hand starting. With even the simpler rudiments, the student will quickly discover great limitations to their technique!

All we can suggest is to simply start very slowly and keep practicing. Speed will come and you will eventually have dazzling technique at your disposal.

The next rudiment of particular hand-drum interest would be rudiment #1, the long roll. This is the double stroke roll or what is commonly known as the "mammy-daddy". This pattern is simply a doubling up of rudiment #14 where each hand plays a double stroke: R R L L R R L L R R L L R R L L etc. This also should be practiced with reversed hands, and different tones, but each double should always stay of the given type, such as two open notes, two bass notes or two slaps with the given hand. Another way to practice doubles would be to use rudiments #2, #3, #15, #16, #17, #18. These are the 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 15 stroke roll. Except for the 10 stroke roll these all consist of a string of doubles with a single accented stroke on the end. The total number of strokes thus comes out an odd number. The 10 stroke roll, however, has two single strokes on the end. Don't forget the final stroke is clear and accented. In addition to playing these rolls using double strokes, they are excellent practice using heel-toe of the as a substitute for two distinct strokes. Practice all the rolls in that manner as well.

The two heel-toe rolls we discussed previously are really just variations of rudiment #14 where in one case a right hand heel-toe is assigned to RR and a left hand heel-toe to LL. In the second case, a right heel-left heel is assigned to RR and a right toe-left toe is assigned to LL. All the rolls can be practiced with either assignment. A pair of excellent hand-drum rudiments are #21 the Single Paradiddle: R L R R L R L L and #11 the Double Paradiddle: R L R L R R L R L R L L. Note that the patterns are naturally reversing so it is not necessary to start with opposite hands. The underlined note above is accented in the patterns. These should be practiced all on one note as well as one hand playing one note and the other hand playing another. Paradiddles can be especially effective when each hand is playing a totally different drum.

Another rudiment of extreme importance in hand-drum playing is the flam, rudiment # 4. In the flam both hands strike the drum nearly simultaneously except that one hand arrives just slightly ahead of the main note forming a kind of grace note before the stroke. Usually, the hand hitting first strikes from a position closer to the drumhead. Flams are typically practiced in groups of two, first with the left hand arriving first as the grace note followed by the case where right hand arrives first and repeat. Here both hands usually play the same note, but it is instructive to practice with different notes in the two hands. The student should practice flams until the separation between the two strokes can be precisely controlled at will.

Drum accents are often performed with "flat flams" which means that both notes arrive at exactly the same time with no delay between them what-so-ever.

Also of interest is rudiment #20 the flam-tap where each flam is followed by a single stroke and #6 the Flam Paradiddle where the accented note in the paradiddle above is replaced by a flam. We leave it to the interested student to investigate flam rudiments #24, #7, and #8.

After considerable effort has been applied to the double stroke rolls above, one can proceed to rudiment #5, the ruff. The ruff is a double bounce in one hand as grace notes to a single stroke in the other. The sound is implied in the word "ruff". This is a very advanced and tricky rudiment for conga in that it requires the player to use the "bounce" of the drum head (exactly as a snare player does) to get the speed out of the double stroke grace notes. At first the stroke seems impossible but it is NOT impossible as evidenced by the fact that Giovanni Hidalgo demonstrates this rudiment on one of his videos. No question, however, that the rudiment is an advanced stroke for conga. The ruff followed by a single accented stroke is known in rudiment terminology as a "drag". The advanced student having mastered the ruff can proceed to the various ruff and drag rudiments. And again we remind you not to forget to practice ruffs and drags where the double grace notes are produced by heel-toe action of the given hand.

Heel-toe ruffs and drags are much easier to learn and execute than the double bounces. The double bounces on the other hand have the advantage that they can be applied to any drum note rather than just using only heel-toe sounds for doubles. Spending a lot of time on rudiment practice may seem like a drag (pun!), but one only needs to hear a player like Hidalgo to quickly realize the benefits that accrue from such practice. The fact that most hand-drum players don't bother with rudiments also gives the person who does practice them a leg-up on killer conga chops compared to the rank and file out there.

A word to the wise! A listing of all 26 standard snare drum rudiments is given in the appendix. One final suggestion for hand-drum practice would be that you would be STRONGLY urged to obtain a copy of the book "Stick Control for the Snare Drummer" by George Lawrence Stone. Don't worry that it appears to be written in standard music notation and is purportedly for snare drum players. The principles behind the book apply equally to hand-drums and since the first couple of pages are some of the most important exercises, one only need refer to the left and right hand notations rather than the musical staff since all the notes are of equal arbitrary value.

One simply sets a metronome to a slow value and plays the patterns of left and right hands. To adapt the exercises better to hand-drums as was the case with rudiments the student has to be inventive to assign various tones to the groupings. A

ll the patterns can be played with just a single sound, for example playing all the patterns open tone, then all the patterns bass, and finally all the patterns slap. Or one can mix them up. Typically repeated strokes with a given hand playing the same sound seems to work well. Use your imagination and make practice fun.

The fact that Stone was first published in 1935 and is still probably the most popular drum practice book sold attests to the power of these exercises to build drumming skill. Do not be surprised if after some serious attention to Stone you are suddenly blowing your friends out of the water with your drum chops!

Conga Rudiments Benj

Go to Book two - Rhythms

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