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The Secret of the Paradiddle

on August 4, 2014

For those of you who are not drummers, this is the definition of a paradiddle from Webster’s :a quick succession of drum beats slower than a roll and alternating left and right-hand strokes in a typical L-R-L-L, R-L-R-R pattern.

In the 9th grade I went from an oboe player to a mallet player on the drumline for the marching band. Oboes do not march. There was a huge shift from being in the wood wind section to becoming a drummer. Wood wind sections in the early 80’s were made up of predominately quiet and polite female sorts. There is one exception, when fighting for chair placement or rank there could be a cat fight. What can I say about the drumline? They had a reputation for being wild and not so polite but very driven guys who owned their rank and had the mindset they were the greatest of all drumlines. (I need to note that to my recollection, during 4 years on the drumline, we only received top ratings. So the guys lived up to their reputation.) Here is this quiet, reserved freshman entering her worst nightmare, so she thought. And, my first assignment was to learn to paradiddle.

Like all music sorts, I did tap out rhythms and beats but not like drummers. First lesson I learned was as a drummer your drumsticks never left your side. And, nothing was a forbidden drum. If I only knew then what I know now, I could have capitalized on the fame STOMP and Blue Man group has by creating endless drumming sources. In my case and my fellow mallet player, we had our mallet sticks with us. Yes, I was rapping our drum things as I called them on tables, chairs, on people who stood still too long, and even on a bag of Cheetos. None of which was producing the results I needed quick enough. Growing up in a family of teachers I knew the best way to learn something is to teach someone else. But who would want to learn to paradiddle?

I have the most remarkable cousin. He is 3 years older than me. He has taught me more about life and learning than any professor or teaching guru in the 34 years since I left high school and pursued a career in education. In fact I think he should have an honorary doctorate for the impact he has had on not just my life but others as well. Brad never attended college. I think the IQ label he was given is very misleading though he must have constant care. Downs Syndrome is interesting. Folks sporting genetic issues sure enlighten the lives of us who are suppose to have our genetic codes in order. Brad’s eagerness to learn any crazy thing I came up with made him the perfect candidate.

Thirty-four years later, Brad and I are still paradiddling. The paradiddle held its magic all these years. When he was basically unresponsive in the hospital the word paradiddle created a response. During a trying family time when I returned to spend time with him, what does he want to do? “PARADIDDLE, DONNA!!” When there is stress he looks at me and I know, we need to paradiddle.

Over my life time, the paradiddle has followed me. Out of the frustration to learn play the mallets a single word and rhythm pattern has brought only happiness at the mere mentioning of the word. I have paradiddle with my students. I have paradiddle with friends. But most of all, during personal times of challenges and heartbreak, I have paradiddled alone. The rhythm brings me back to the moments of happiness. The paradiddle reminds me I can rise above if I just get with it. I also need to share it. When I find I am challenged to learn something I remember the paradiddle. To be able to teach another means you must know it well enough yourself. I reach out to others to teach them the lessons I need to learn myself. It hasn’t failed me yet.

As freshmen on the drumline, one of the pro drummers told me if I just learned to paradiddle the rest would be easy. Thank you, Paul Pendleton! I need to give this guy another shout out. After 34 years he agreed to teach me to drum again. This time he had a much harder challenge since there was some slight neurological challenges as a result of an incident. Due to his magic of Pendlejam, drumming has been the rehab I needed not only for my left hand and brain but for my life. So once again, the paradiddle has come to my rescue. I am empowered, got my groove back, and conquering the impossible.

So what is the secret of the paradiddle? It is a wordless means to bringing a positive rhythm back into a dull broke silent moment in life. It is timeless and ageless. Anyone can learn to paradiddle. Just the word brings on a smile.

PARADIDDLE!! I challenge you to learn to paradiddle.

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