FLAM!!! RUFF!!! PARADIDDLE!!! MOMMY-DADDY!!!
Those of us who are not Drummers will look at the words listed in the title above and perhaps think they have stumbled on some D.C. comics out-takes. Maybe Batman and Robin tried on and tried out these words for their fistic dance when they previewed their act in the hinterlands before debuting in Gotham.
The Drummers amongst us will immediately recognize the words as particular Drumming “Rudiments”. (For those benighted few who are not familiar with the term……The “Rudiments” are particular patterns between the hands that have been codified and dissected and applied throughout the Drum community. They are often likened to “Scales.”
It is, perhaps, either testimony to the child-like innocence of the Drummer, or to the too often criticism that drummers never grow up…..(Son: Mom, I want to be a drummer when I grow up. Mom: Son, you can’t do both) that the Drummer has adopted the onomatopoetic version for the Rudiments description. The FLAM, RUFF, PARADIDDLE, MOMMY-DADDY, all sound like their name. I think most Drummers prefer this innocent approach. I asked one of my drummer friends what the word “onomatopoeia” suggested and he said it reminded him of the sound he made while performing a necessary morning ablution after a night of debauchery highlighted by setting a personal best in a hot pepper eating contest……ONOMATOPOEIA!!!!
As cool, useful and entertaining as the Paradiddle, Ruff and Mommy-Daddy are, I want to focus on the FLAM today. Say it….”FLAM!!!.The stroke sounds like it. FLAM!!! Technically, it is both hands hitting almost together……with the emphasis on “almost” (More Drummer jokes: What do you call two drummers trying to play exactly together? A FLAM!) It looks cool too, a big note with a little note attached to it like a remora fish on a shark. This stroke serves to both thicken and emphasize the note. I have seen other child-like terms used to describe this. Gene Krupa, in his Drum Lesson book, calls it a “Plum”, and I like the sound of that. (There is no truth to the rumor that in his later years he called it a “Prune”) Indeed, use your imagination to describe this sound in your own unique and colorful way.
If you ever see a sheet of music you will often see Italian terms littered all over the place; Italian being the language of choice for musical descriptions, partly I feel because of the beauty and mellifluity of the language.(Mellifluity and “melody” come from the same root, which means-Honey) Brio, Vivace, Largo, A Capo, Andante etc. evoke romantic “images” greater than there mere definition.
In my own experience, I once played a big band chart that had a spot for a drum solo. But, rather than the word “Solo” written over the section it said, “It’s all yours MotherFucker!!!” This linguistic difference might actually say quite a bit about the cultures and attitudes involved.
The “Flam” in word and in action is a beautiful thing and our innocent term has served us well. However, the element and spice and shelter of Academia are not necessarily bad things, and Filet Mignon is at least as good as a hot dog. The technical term for the little “remora” fish note is a “Grace” note and brings with it all that word entails. The Italian term for a main note and another “off-kilter” note preceding it is called an “appoggiatura”. The flam could be considered the Drumming equivalent. This is quite a beautiful mouthful, and has a rhythmic look-all of those double strokes. The term literally means, “leans against” in Italian and can convey a colorful image which can be translated into a very personal approach. Is the “leans against” a Tee-shirt clad teenaged boy with a cocky posture leaning against his hot car, or is it a 3 year old girl leaning hard against her dad upon seeing close up and for the first time a gorilla rush the bars at the zoo?
The appoggiatura has also played a role in recent academic history. About ten years ago, in the National Spelling Bee, it was the final winning championship word! I can see Johnny Drummer, having survived all the various rounds, and suffixes and etymological roots, finally having the chance to put to rest once and for all the notion that drummers are somehow lacking in intelligence. He emerges blinking into the light of the final round, TV cameras, nervous parents, cheap deodorant. The moderator says, “How do you spell Appoggiatura?” Johnny’s heart races. He knows! His drum teacher has told him all about this stuff! He stands even straighter, thrusts his shoulders back and readies himself for the Championship; The bright lights; all the encomiums heading his way. (Yes, he actually thought of the word “encomium”) “Appoggiatura,” he repeats and then suddenly realizes a cause even greater than himself. A zephyr of improvisation swirls up and twists around him as his jazz mentality, training and musical instincts dominate his brain. “Appoggiatura,” he repeats again, and sees his friends and parents in the crowd mouthing both prayers and curses. In a stentorian tone he begins……”F- L- A- M-………Appoggiatura”