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.