Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Poing Stroke

by Ed Flack, ©2015

Ancient drum notations often include a special mark to identify a rudiment known as the “pong stroke” or the “poing stroke.” The following information, gathered from original sources, offer conflicting interpretations of exactly how the pong, or poing is to be played.

James Longman and Francis Broderip, The Young Drummers Assistant (London: Longman and Broderip, 1780), page 2. In The Young Drummers Assistant, there is a symbol under the heading, “Explanation of Marks,” that shows a symbol labeled “pong stroke.” It is shown only to be played by the right hand. The exact meaning is not explained.

Charles Stewart Ashworth, A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating (Boston: G. Graupner, 1812), 4. Included with Ashworth’s collection of rudiments, is a symbol described as “Poing Stroke, Hard.” It is allowed to be played as a left or a right hand rudiment, with no further explanation. "Poing stroke hard” is illustrated in close proximity with two other symbols: “Hard but not so hard as poing stroke” and “Faint Stroke.” The faint stroke is shown with a hollow note head, like a half-note, but it has nothing to do with time value. These are indications for dynamics: poing stroke hard, is a forte beat, or accent; hard but not so hard as poing, represents beats played at mezzo forte volume; and the faint stroke is played relatively soft.

Alvan Robinson, Massachusetts Collection of Martial Musick, 1818, 7. “Poing stroke is performed by giving a flam and striking each stick upon the head of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time.” Robinson gives only narrative descriptions of drum beatings and offers no written symbol for the poing stroke.

David Hazeltine, Instructor In Martial Music (Exeter: C. Norris and Co., 1817), 5. “Poing stroke, is beat by giving a light flam and strike each stick nigh the hoop of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time.” Hazeltine explains all drum beats narratively and he shows no symbol for the poing.

Levi Lovering, The Drummer’s Assistant for the Art of Drumming (Philadelphia: J. G. Klemm, 1823), 9. “The Poing Stroke: Is beat in the following manner. Strike the head about three inches from the lower side with a smart sliding stroke; throw up the hand as directed in the first lesson.” Lovering uses a bird’s-eye symbol that looks like a fermata to indicate where a poing stroke is to be played. Lovering’s poing notation symbol can apply to either hand.

Elias Howe, Howe’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor (Boston: Elias Howe, 1862), 5. “Poing stroke, is performed by giving a flam and striking each stick upon the head of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time.” Howe’s book is written using drum notation that had clearly evolved since Ashworth’s time and is more easily interpreted by reader’s of modern drum music. He did not offer a specific symbol for the poing stroke, electing to designate it narratively.

Howe dedicated two pages of his book under the title, “The Old Style of Drum Instructions, Used in 1812.” On those pages he shows the poing stroke as Ashworth wrote it. Howe explained, “It is called the Drummer’s Notation, and is the Old English style. It will be seen that the Half, Quarter, Eighth, and 16th notes, are used simply to express the force of the beats, and without any regard to their relative value as to their length.”

Note: Elias Howe, the musician, is not the same person as Elias Howe Jr., inventor of the sewing machine.

Robinson, Hazeltine, and Howe describe the poing as a flam stroke but Lovering does not. The Young Drummers Assistant shows the pong stroke as a one-handed technique which eliminates the option of flam sticking.

Ashworth’s book contains a specific notation that explains the flam as two simultaneous stroke motions. He uses no similar markings and makes no comment that would indicate the poing should be played like a flam.

The pong stroke of The Young Drummers Assistant, and the poing stroke of Ashworth’s and Lovering’s books are probably the same technique. With the limited information available, this supposition cannot be absolutely confirmed.

The name “poing” evokes an onomatopoeia sound association. A strike played off the head’s center, toward the edge could make a poing-like sound. Rimshots played on the wooden hoops of a rope drum may also produce a poing sound.

In the opinion of this researcher, it seems reasonable that for those now seeking to explain and perform ancient style drum beats, it may be useful to employ two designations: the “poing stroke” meaning a light rimshot, and the “poing stroke flam” played as light rimshot with a flam.

Example notation, click image to enlarge.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


by Ed Flack, ©2015

Earl Sturtze said, “The three basic rudiments of drumming are the Single Stroke Roll, the Long Roll, and the Flams. All other rudiments are derived from different combinations of these three.” He also said, “Some experts claim that, since the ‘flam’ is a derivative of the ‘single stroke roll’ there should only be TWO basic rudiments.”
Many years later, Thom Hannum made a similar observation when he wrote, “There are three beat patterns which form the basis of most rudimental and orchestral passages: single, double, and triple beats.”
[2] Hannum does not specifically name the flam among the three beat patterns, which he also called the “three keys.”

Sturtze’s case for distinguishing the flam as independent from the single stroke roll is strong because flamming requires a collateral action between hands to combine a high primary stroke with a low grace note. Furthermore, the individual stroke by each hand can be either a high-to-low, or low-to-high motion, whereas roll single strokes are played at equal heights. With this in mind, learning to control two-height accent-to-tap, and tap-to-accent strokes is the gateway to advanced flam execution.

There are four widely-known exercises that form the core of a successful warm-up and practice routine because they engage all the basic beat patterns identified by Sturtze and Hannum: 1. eight-on-a-hand (one-height); 2. bucks (two-heights); 3. Sanford double beat; 4. Sanford triple beat.

Each foundational exercise is designed to be practiced one hand at a time. The advantages of working each hand in isolation is to allow focused attention on specific motions, grip and playing positions until all actions are performed consistently and without flaw. Once each hand has those motions programmed into muscle memory, you can bring both hands together to coordinate specific sticking sequences with a much better chance of achieving an even balance in hand-to-hand motions and sound.

Another way of using one-handed exercises to build balance and fluidity is to practice them as simultaneous double-stops. With both hands playing the same thing at the same time you can precisely match stroke motions, stick heights and volume. When all aspects of a pattern match up in unison they should blend beautifully when played in alternation.


1. Earl Sturtze, The Sturtze Drum Instructor (Ivoryton: Reissued by The Company of Fifers and Drummers, orig. 1956), 10.
2. Thom Hannum, Championship Concepts for Marching Percussion (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1989): 8.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Local musicians unite to form a new Highland-style pipes and drums band

CEDAR FALLS, IOWA (July 12, 2014) – Local pipers and drummers stepped up to fill a void in the 2014 Iowa Irish Fest opening ceremonies after the Iowa Scottish Pipes & Drums of Des Moines regretfully declined this year’s invitation due to a scheduling conflict.

With the Iowa Scottish Pipes & Drums unavailable, Irish Fest committee members needed to look no further than Cedar Falls to enlist the talents of experienced piper, Ross Schupbach.

Schupbach has played the pipes for about 15 years. He previously marched with the Thunder Mountain Pipe Band at Grand Junction, CO. Since moving to Cedar Falls, he has played at many local venues and community events, often performing as a duo with Russ Clarke, another Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums member with 10 years piping experience.

Rounding out the piper corps are Greg McConoughey, a veteran of the Detroit Caledonia Pipe Band, and two of Schupbach’s bagpipe students, Mike Knapp and Pat Morrissey.

“I knew at our first meeting we would be the best damn pipe band in town,” recalls Knapp.

“True, but we’re also the only pipe band in town,” testified Morrissey.

To compliment the piper corps, a drum corps needed to be assembled. Iowa Irish Fest committee member, Greg Tagtow, just happened to know a guy who could help. Tagtow contacted Ed Flack and introduced him to Schupbach.

Flack has performed three seasons as a concert drummer with the Waterloo Municipal Band and has an extensive background in field drumming through drum & bugle corps, high school and college marching bands, and the traditional American fife and drum style. He jumped at the opportunity to explore the Scottish Highland snare drum style which is famous for its rhythmic complexity and challenging techniques.

Drummer Elizabeth Collins brings two years of pipe band experience as a snare drummer with the Chesapeake Caledonian Pipes & Drums. Her understanding of the Highland drum style has helped enhance the drum section’s musical interpretation of traditional tunes.

Bass drummer Tom Blankenship supports the band with a steady current of low-end pulse. Blankenship has considerable drum and bugle corps experience and can play any drum in the line. Most recently, he played with The Drumslingers, an independent drum line from the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area.

Completing the drum corps midsection is Bill Brown on tenor drum. Highland tenor drumming is unique in the world of marching percussion in that it involves a complex series of mallet spinning techniques called “flourishes."

The Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums uniform consists of a Scottish cap called a “glengarry.” The glengarry worn by the pipers is solid black, while the drummers wear black trimmed with red and white dicing. Individuals add badges to their glengarry to represent a clan affiliation, military experience, or other preferred Celtic symbolism.

Each band member wears a white shirt and black tie. The kilt patterns, or “tartans,” are also an individual choice, usually representing a clan affiliation or military experience.

According to Pipe Major Schupbach, “In the beginning, my only concern was that we could all pull this off to a level that would sound decent to the average sober parade watcher.”

Band members now agree that in the short time since coming together, the group has exceeded all personal expectations.

“It’s amazing how well we have pulled it together,” said piper, Russ Clarke.

The members of the Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums feel honored and excited to perform at the 2014 Iowa Irish Fest. The band will lead the Opening Ceremonies Parade on Friday, August 1, at 4:00 PM.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


By Ed Flack ©2014

In the broadest of terms there are two ways to hold a drum stick: overhand and underhand. When both sticks are held with the same kind of overhand grip, it is called a “matched grip.” When the left hand holds the stick using an underhand grip while the right hand holds the stick with an overhand, it is called traditional, conventional, asymmetric, or mixed. Beyond this general description, the details of grip become more complex.

Holding the stick below the hand will allow maximum wrist-turning range (extension and flexion). It also allows a 180-degree range of forearm rotation, from the palm facing down all the way over to the palm facing up (pronation and supination). There are many ways the pivot point, or fulcrum, of an overhand grip can be applied. Two practical methods in common use are the index finger grip, and the middle finger grip.

Using the thumb and index finger creates a pivot point behind which the rest of the fingers are aligned to exert leverage by pulling up on the stick. The pivot point should be established slightly behind the stick’s center of balance (about 1/3 the distance from the butt end). This is an excellent grip for wrist and/or finger techniques. Switching between wrist and finger control is a simple matter of opening and closing the fingers behind the index finger fulcrum point.

WRIST: Lightly closing the fingers behind the grasp of the thumb and index finger will transfer control of the stick from the fingers to the wrist. The closed finger grip must not be too tight; the stick needs to have enough free play to bounce.

FINGERS: The finger control position of the overhand grip is established with a relaxed downward bend at the wrist. This allows the fingers to open and extend while minimizing wrist action. The stick pivots at a fulcrum point between the thumb and index finger with the middle finger and/or ring finger pulling upward in response to rebound.

The index finger grip is well-suited for lighter playing such as in concert bands and orchestral settings because it makes it easy to lightly squeeze the stick for pressed techniques. This grip also offers precise rudimental control for field drumming because it is effective at braking rebound and for controlling taps, diddles, and grace notes.

Setting the stick’s pivot point at the middle finger was taught by Haskell W. Harr, Earl Sturtze, and many others.[1] It is sometimes called the “Spivack Grip” in honor of Murray Spivack (1903–1994). Spivack was a Los Angeles-area percussion teacher who did not invent this technique, but did a lot to help promote its use. Among his many successful students are jazz luminary Louie Bellson and funk aficionado David Garibaldi.

Spivack explained the grip as a three-finger hold that begins by cradling the stick beneath the palm in the crook of the first joint of the middle finger. The hand is turned palm down and the stick is allowed to pivot freely with a seesaw-like motion. According to Spivak, the fulcrum point needs to be as narrow as possible because “The narrower the fulcrum or balance point, the better the stick will rebound.”[2] With the middle finger established as the fulcrum point, the thumb and first finger are then brought together to guide the stick, touching it very lightly. The third finger (ring finger) and little finger remain relaxed in their natural curl around the back end of the stick, but not touching it. Do not allow the little finger to stick straight out.

This grip has a very loose and relaxed feel, allowing an uninhibited rebound that produces a good quality of sound from the drum and a lot of power when higher volume is needed.

Being comfortable with grip variations will prepare you to adapt to different musical situations. Some grip methods are best for powerful playing, and others are better for speed. Changing grips as you play will distribute physical effort over a range of muscles to increase endurance and reduce the risk of repetitive-use injuries.


1. Haskell W. Harr, Drum Method: For Band and Orchestra, Book Two (Chicago: M. M. Cole Publishing Co., 1938), 70;  Earl Sturtze, The Sturtze Drum Instructor (Ivoryton: Reissued by The Company of Fifers and Drummers, orig. 1956), 6;  Wm F. Ludwig, Sr. and Wm F. Ludwig, Jr., W. F. L. Drum Corps Manual (Chicago: Ludwig Drum Co., 1948), 6.

2. Murray Spivack: A Lesson With Louie Bellson, performed by Louie Bellson and Murray Spivack. Director: Sandy Feldstein, (1995, Van Nuys: Alfred Music Publishing Co., 2010). DVD.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


By Ed Flack, ©2014

I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Nick Attanasio a few months ago (10/24/13). A former member of the Sons of Liberty, Attanasio played bass drum in that group with Les Parks, Bobby Thompson, and Jay Tuomey. His innovative and ground-breaking bass drumming style during the 1950s has earned him a place in the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

I’ve read about the Parks stick-grip method and the playing positions he taught in articles by Ken Mazur (a student of Jay Tuomey). I was looking for more information about the way Parks used the right-hand grip. My cousin, Mike Flack, had been in contact with Mr. Attanasio and arranged an introduction so I could talk with him.

Nick told me that Parks was “the leader of the Sons” and the style they all played was “directed by Les Parks.” He told me that to play snare drum with the Sons that “you had to adopt the Parks method.” All snare drummers in that group had to use the same grip method and playing techniques.

Parks was of the “modern school” of drumming. A graduate of Juilliard, he was a fine concert/symphonic percussionist as well as a dance band drummer. Modern stylists believed the elbows should be closer to the body to increase power by drawing the weight of the hands, sticks, and forearms toward the center of gravity.

Ancient stylists (1800s military origin) used a wider playing position, desribed as “around the tree” with the elbows away from the sides. The strike angle of the hands is a little higher than the modern style. Ancient stylists use some right-hand wrist-bending, but stroke power is primarily generated through forearm rotation (pronation and supination).

During the early 1950s, Parks took the modern theory to its ultimate conclusion by positioning the elbows not only closer to the sides but also to the back of the back (when the sticks are lowered to their horizontal playing position). This affected the angle at which the sticks approached the center of the drum by making it more narrow. Another Parks innovation was to bend the right wrist slightly to the outside (ulnar deviation) just enough to align the stick in a more direct extension of the forearm.[1] With this orientation, the right-hand stick can be raised and lowered by bending the wrist in a hinge-like fashion (flexion and extension).

Parks and The Sons of Liberty called this system of bone alignment and summation of muscle groups (from shoulder to elbow to wrist to fingers) the “S” or “power train.”[2].


1.  Ken Mazur, “The Perfectionists: The History of Rudimental Snare Drumming from Military Code to Field Competition,” Percussive Notes 43/2 (April 2005), 20.

2.  Ibid.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


By Ed Flack ©2014

Drum strokes are the various techniques of striking a drumhead with a drumstick. More specifically, when we talk about strokes, we are referring to the dynamics of the stick in motion and how the energy of its momentum is imparted to the drum to produce a specific kind of sound. A drum stroke is considered to be a single motion from where it starts to where it ends, but it is also useful to break that motion down into component parts to understand how it is controlled.

Understanding drum strokes is the key to fluent and consistent drumming. Grip (how the stick is held) is a factor in the sense that different muscles can be used to initiate force, but the motion of a specified stroke must exhibit the same characteristics regardless of the grip method used. In fact, an incorrect grip may be defined as any method used that interferes with the efficient execution of a stroke.

Drum stroke techniques can be divided into four categories: single strokes, double strokes, multiple-beat strokes, and collateral strokes. There are many possible variations with interdependent combinations that can blur the lines between categories. Studying the differences, mastering the techniques, and knowing when and how to use each stroke are all parts of the science behind the skill of artful drumming. The best stroke selection will be influenced by factors such as tempo, dynamics, and rhythm.

Identifying individual drum stroke techniques, organizing them into categories, and explaining them is a challenging task. The result of such an endeavor can be controversial due in part to the fact that different labels are often used to describe identical techniques. Adding to the confusion, dissimilar techniques sometimes have similar names. Even when drummers completely agree on the name, definition, and use of a specific stroke, they may differ slightly in their personal executions of the technique.

In his book, The Sturtze Drum Instructor, Earl Sturtze wrote, “The author has instructed hundreds of students and in no case have two drummers performed exactly alike, although they were taught to play the same. In every case, some movements which are natural for one are not natural for others.”[1]


1.  Earl Sturtze, The Sturtze Drum Instructor (Ivoryton: Reissued by The Company of Fifers and Drummers, orig. 1956), 15.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


By Ed Flack ©2014

Any snare drumming book worth its salt will include an explanation of how to hold the drumsticks using traditional grip. There has not been a lot a variation of the way the left underhand grip is described since 1812, when Charles Stewart Ashworth undertook the effort in his book, A New, Useful And Complete System Of Drum Beating.[1]

Beginning drummers find this mixed grip method challenging to learn and many drummers have abandoned the style in favor of matched grip. The truth is that right-handed people will always have difficulty getting the left stick under control, regardless of the grip technique used. Let us assume that you have overcome emotional restrictions and have discovered for yourself the joy of playing traditional grip—this information is for you!

There is a uniquely American innovation to the left underhand grip that is alien to most drummers. This method is often referred to as “the Bobby Thompson grip” because Thompson did so much to promote it through his work as a drum corps instructor and arranger (Sons of Liberty, Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights). However, Mr. Thompson actually learned the method from Les Parks when they performed together in the Sons of Liberty drum and fife corps.

Jay Tuomey (Sons of Liberty, The Lancraft Fife & Drum Corps) is quoted in an article written by Ken Mazur as saying that the technique was “invented” by master drummer and teacher Les Parks.[2] Parks devised this method with encouragement from his teacher, Morris Goldenberg, at the Julliard School of Music in New York City.[3] The concept behind it was to find a better way to facilitate left hand stick control by using more of the index finger and less of the thumb. Parks believed a flat-handed thumb grip could not deliver the kind of precise control and power needed for competitive rudimental drumming.

Parks graduated from Julliard in 1950. During his career, he instructed the St. Vincent Cadets, Garfield Cadets, Hawthorne Caballeros, the New York Skyliners and many others. He founded The Sons of Liberty, an influential fife and drum corps from Brooklyn, New York (1947-1968).

The Parks method resembles the traditional left hand grip in every respect except that the little finger is curled back. The middle finger is extended along side the stick to balance and assist in guiding the stroke, but it does not touch it. The index finger acts alone as the primary controlling digit by pushing down or pulling in. The thumb is not used other than as a fulcrum to support the stick’s balance point.

According to Ken Mazur, Marty Hurley said “When the pinky finger is back it forms a better bridge for the stick to rest on. The ring finger is less likely to move. Les and Bobby spent hours perfecting the technique. They wanted a method that had the left hand under more control.”[4] Hurley was a student of Bobby Thompson, and the percussion arranger/caption head of the Phantom Regiment (1976-1992).

Effects of curling the little finger using a left underhand grip:

1. The curled little finger acts as a natural pendulum, which helps rotate the palm of the hand to position the thumb topside. More arm muscles can then be involved to enhance power, control, and stamina. The forearm has more outward rotational range available to play full strokes and accents.

2. Upward support from the curled little finger enables the ring finger to work like a springboard under the stick. This creates a more secure grip by helping the muscles of the left hand apply pressure where needed.

3. It has the psychological effect of bringing the drummer’s attention to the details of the grip into sharp focus. The Parks method does not require the player to deviate from the established principles of a correct underhand technique, but it does enhance awareness of how one is using it. It forces the drummer to concentrate and burn the habit of an effective underhand grip into the muscle memory until it becomes a natural and unconscious act.

The traditional snare drum grip dates back at least to the fifteenth century[5] and the Les Parks method of curling the left hand’s little finger is not described in any drumming publications prior to 1950. This is truly a modern American innovation that is worthy of attention. If you are a traditional grip player and are serious about snare drumming, you should make a sincere effort to experiment with the Parks grip method.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I learned the Les Parks method from my friend, Dave Moyer, an excellent drummer who had played snare drum with the Dubuque Colts Drum & Bugle Corps (Iowa, late 1970s). I noticed that his left hand traditional grip was unique in that he was curling the little finger; I asked him about it and he explained its advantages.

My next exposure to the Les Parks technique came from another friend, Dave Nicholas, also an excellent snare drummer formerly with the Colts (early 1970s). I noticed that Nicholas used the same grip technique as Moyer. When I asked him about it, he explained it the same way I learned it from Moyer.

Moyer and Nicholas never mentioned any connection between their grip method with Les Parks or Bobby Thompson. “That’s just how we did it in the Colts” is all they knew of its history. At that point, I assumed that it must have been something unique to the Dubuque Colts.

Years later, I read an article written by Ken Mazur titled “The Perfectionists.”[6] Mazur identified the history behind the curled little finger technique and at last all the pieces of the puzzle came together.

I have fully embraced the Les Parks grip method, although initially it was a difficult adjustment, it takes a concentrated effort to keep the little finger cocked back. With persistence, it soon became ingrained to the point where not curling the little finger feels unnatural.

I’m glad I learned it. I feel it has advanced my traditional grip playing to levels I was never able to achieve before. In fact, before adopting the Les Parks method, I was primarily a matched grip player who occasionally dabbled in traditional grip. At this point in my drumming life, thanks to the Parks method, those roles have reversed and I now prefer traditional grip.

Follow this link to a video demonstration of the Les Parks left hand grip technique:

Photos of Mr. Parks graciously provided by his daughter, Nancy

1. Charles Stewart Ashworth, A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum-beating (Boston: G. Graupner, 1812), 1.
2. Ken Mazur, Who Took The Drum Out of Drum Corps? RAMD Virtual Symposium 1997: Crossroads. Accessed January 19, 2013,
3. Ibid.
4. Ken Mazur, “The Perfectionists: The History of Rudimental Snare Drumming from Military Code to Field Competition,” Percussive Notes 43, no. 2 (April 2005): 20.
5. John H. Beck, Ed. Encyclopedia of Percussion (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995), 281.
6. Mazur, The Perfectionists, 20.