Rhythms as Words

Words are symbols that allow us to efficiently send and receive complex information through sound alone. In languages throughout the world, words can be combined with other words, allowing us to create phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and stories. Interestingly, rudiments -- such as those from the Percussive Arts Society -- allow us to do the same thing: chain together separate ideas into increasingly complicated phrases and musical ideas.


In languages, the rules that determine the order in which words should appear in phrases and sentences is called syntax. Rudiments have a "syntax" kind of built into them, often based on musical context. For example, if you're playing a fast 32nd-note double-stroke roll at 110 BPM, you'd probably play a paradiddle (RLRR) to alternate your lead hand, rather than play four strokes in a row (RRRR). Although it's possible to play four strokes in a row, the articulation changes, and the sticking may be more awkward to move around the kit. Paradiddles fluidly move in and out of doubles, so the two can be used together to form rudiment-based syntax.


Here's a solo that combines a series of drum words (rudiments) into different phrases and sentences (syntax).


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