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GAINS & GLEANINGS | Reclaiming "rudiments" as building blocks for life

By J. Hogan


In most areas of life, we don’t use the term rudiment anymore. We use other words and concepts to describe what makes up the rudiments of a particular function, discipline, or vocation - words like “fundamentals,” “basics,” and “foundations,” instead of rudiment.


I like both the word and concepts of rudiment because it’s not stained by many connotations, and it denotes a notion of baby steps growing into building blocks, adding layer upon layer as a person’s level of sophistication grows.


We do still use rudiment when speaking of musical training. Take your youngster to any drum teacher worth his or her salt, and your child will have a pair of sticks, a quiet drum pad, and simple counting exercises to get started. ONE - two - THREE - four; ONE - two - THREE - four to introduce Western music’s 4/4 backbeat, and ONE - two - three; ONE - two - three for waltz-time, which is usually introduced at first just to show the student that odd time signatures exist.


Before long, those simple time counting concepts will be augmented with divided note counts, from whole note, to half note, to quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes.


The beats on the (thankfully) quiet faux-leather pad are now less simple, too. Paradiddles have arrived and hand coordination is being instilled in four beat doses – left-right-left-left or right-left-right-right.


Your youngster isn’t Buddy Rich or John Bonham, but the child is learning the same rudiments those legendary drummers did.

It’s true for pianists, guitarists, and horn players, too. Their rudiments are scales, chord-building, and arpeggio exercises to train the hand and ear to come into alignment and give a vocabulary of creativity over time, one built on solid, time-tested processes and music theory.

Certainly a person can be more radically individually creative by throwing caution to the wind, learning nothing others did, and creating their sounds from the audible equivalent of a giant box of crayons of all shades.


Of course, this nearly always results in a cacophony of grating noise instead of music, but it’s decidedly individualistic and creative.


If we’re hoping for pleasant music, rudiments matter. Centuries of harmonic structure create a canvas upon which beautiful music comes to life, less “creative,” yet more resonant to the human ear and experience.


Rudiments, although not called that, matter across all areas of human endeavor. To be an accountant, the rules of mathematics must be known and understood, the ledger must accurately track credits and debits, and defined standards create the lanes in which the field is understood.


A car mechanic, an electrician, and a novelist all must come to today’s efforts with yesterday’s gathered knowledge, handed down to create the landscape upon which they each put in a good day’s work.


We humans, unlike other creators here on Earth, think about our thinking and over time we can see trends and changes in our stances on matters over the years, and I was thinking about how I’ve become more “conservative” over the years – that’s how I got to thinking about rudiments today.


To “conserve” ideologically is to hold to rudiments, proven fundamentals that have reaped good things, not changing things for change’s sake or rolling life’s dice to experiment in hopes of a better way.

It’s also comparatively more boring than taking big chances, which is why many young folks are prone to riskier propositions but become more staid and risk averse as they age.


Life passes faster than we like to think about, and when we’re young, we’re generally not thinking about it, but seemingly suddenly, we find our young mind in an aged body and hear the clock ticking.


This, I believe, is why I’d often rather go with the tried-and-true than roll the dice - because if we mess something up, it might not get better while we’re still around.


One might think men aren’t needed in their kids’s lives, and think a government program or new approach may do as well or better than a two-parent household in rearing children, but we haven’t cracked that code a half-century into our modern urban experiment – married couples raising their children has worked for centuries without many of the social problems that have popped up where that has broken down.


I prefer an apolitical news media – because it worked better than today’s hyper partisan model. I think date nights in married life are great glue for a couple, and don’t desire to reinvent that wheel in hopes of an even better outcome, because the risk of it failing would cost too much.


I look around and think we need more rudiment layering and less roll-the-dice-and-see-what-happens…which means I’m older and more boring these days.


Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.



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