The Linguistic Origins of Modern Drumming

We have the Civil War to thank for modern rock music


I am going off my beaten path here today, though music is certainly a beat I follow. Music is a universal language. Music is a creative gift from our Creator who made us in His image. We reflect Him, therefore, in the creation of music.

Music is mathematical and linguistic, even in its essence. I didn’t previously know, for instance, that drumming has an “alphabet” of 26 rhythms. I did know that drummers in the Civil War (and I assume previous wars) played a key role in their battalions. They weren’t just there to boost moral; they were the communicators on the battlefield, signalling the orders from the generals and commanders to their troops in the heat of the battle.

These things are discussed in the video embedded below on the originals of the shuffle – a type of pattern that mimics a train passing by on a track, and a basic backbone of most modern music. Marcus Petruska takes time in this video to talk about “the debt we all owe to the Civil War drummers”.

He goes into some detail about how drums (and bugles) were used to communicate commands in the fog of war to the troops in the battle. Those various beats used to communicate to troops in war became the percussion vocabulary that informs modern music – the 26 rudiments of drumming. It’s a bit mind blowing to think that we have the Civil War to thank for modern rock music!

These two subjects, music and the Civil War, meeting at the confluence of drumming resonate deeply with me because my great great grandfather was a drummer in the Civil War. He enlisted with the 40th Illinois Infantry that was organized by Stephen G. Hicks, a lawyer in Salem, Marion County, Illinois, and commissioned on July 24, 1861. He was part of Company “F” from Franklin County, Illinois, comprised primarily of farmers.

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