Why are there so many different ways of writing identical sounding snare drum rhythms? The audible life of an individual note played on a snare drum, whether it is written as a sixteenth note, an eighth note, or a quarter note is in effect exactly equal to every other note played on the snare drum. This means that what the written notes actually represent is not the audible duration of drum beats but the amount of time separation between them.
The duration of notes played on brass, woodwind and string instruments can be controlled by the player’s breath or by the bowing of strings. Because those instrumentalists (and vocalists) can sustain their sound, the ability to write rhythms which indicate a note’s time duration is essential. There are certain notation symbols that are specific to drums but beyond those exceptions, drum rhythms are written using the same notations as other instruments.
In some orchestral snare drum parts, there can be passages with notes marked staccato. Likewise, drummers often speak of using legato strokes. For snare drumming these terms cannot be literally interpreted in the same way that brass or woodwind instrumentalists understand them. What drummers can do is to adjust the way the strokes are played, using a staccato or legato manner. Staccato snare drum strokes are played using a slightly more firm grip with a little more forearm weight (relative to the other notes played in the same musical passage.) A snare drum staccato beat is basically just a small accent. When we talk about playing legato it means that the sequence of strokes are played in a flowing, continuous hand-to-hand manner.
The way a drum rhythm is written may be because it is intended to match the notation of a corresponding melody played by other instruments or it may simply be a matter of the composer’s personal writing preference. Snare drum scores written for concert band and orchestra commonly incorporate abbreviated roll notations and because standard orchestral sticking is based on the natural, Straight system, hand-to-hand sticking sequences are usually not specified.
Classical composers and conductors are rarely concerned with how a snare part is technically executed as long as it is well performed and achieves the desired effect. On the other hand, scores written for drum lines are more explicit regarding the actual sticking sequence and are less likely to incorporate abbreviated notation because it is extremely important that all drum parts be precisely unified.
Drum method books often include reading exercises with alternative notation examples. A classic specimen of a drum book that is completely dedicated to explaining alternative notation is the Dodge Drum Chart For Reading Drum Music, by Frank E. Dodge (1908). More about the Dodge Drum Chart to follow but first, a bit of background history about Frank E. Dodge.
Frank Dodge was the founder and proprietor of the F. E. Dodge Company, a manufacturer of drums in Boston, Massachusetts (1868-1912). An accomplished rudimental snare drummer as well as a schooled concert percussionist, Dodge performed with the Boston Opera Orchestra and the Boston Festival Orchestra. The year after publication of the Dodge Drum Chart, he authored a comprehensive drum method book titled, The Dodge Drum School (1909).1
In addition to his work as a business man, a drum maker, performing percussionist and author, Frank Dodge was a teacher. One of his students was George Lawrence Stone, who became famous in the world of drumming for his book, Stick Control for the Snare Drummer (1935). Evidence of Stone’s respect for Frank Dodge is conveyed by his use of the iconic “Continental Drummer” graphic on the cover of Stick Control. That artwork is extracted from an original F. E. Dodge Company logo and had also been used by Dodge on the cover, The Dodge Drum School.
The original publication of the Dodge Drum Chart is long out of print. In 1928, George L. Stone re-arranged and published a new edition which was marketed with the claim, “This book is a veritable dictionary of orchestral drumbeats.”
Stone’s revision of Dodge’s work illustrates 400 rhythmic notations displayed in rows and columns for easy cross referencing. The first 207 examples are duple meter rhythms based upon the flam-a-cue rudiment in 2/4 time; the remaining 197 examples are triple meter rhythms based on the flam-accent rudiment in 6/8 time. Stone said that these “well known rudimentary beats were selected ... so that the right hand is always on the first of the measure with the bass drum beat.”2
Stone explains, and musically notates how the drum chart rhythms written in 2/4 can be adapted to 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4. He offers similar explanations of how chart rhythms written in 6/8 can be adapted to 3/8, 9/8, and 12/8.
It has been over 100 years since the original publication of the Dodge Drum Chart, but it remains a useful resource for students who need help interpreting written rhythms and it serves as a handy reference aid for writing. The book is meticulously and logically arranged and its compact size makes it travel-friendly.
Click on images to enlarge.
The Boston Drum Builders, F. E. Dodge Co. From:
http://www.bostondrumbuilders.com/dodge.html (accessed February, 2013).
Stone, George L. The Dodge Drum Chart For Reading Drum Music. By Frank E. Dodge. 1908. (Randolf: George B. Stone & Son, Inc., 1928).