In practical music exams, as well as performing prepared pieces there's also a section on scales and arpeggios. In the lower brass grades for example you might have to prepare two or three major scales, a minor scale (choice of melodic/harmonic/natural) and arpeggios, and be able to play them tongued or slurred.

As you advance through the grades, you're eventually expected to be able to play all major and minor scales, diminished sevenths, dominant sevenths, and be able to play them faster than in the early grades.

So there's an acknowledged list of harmonic rudiments that musicians are expected to master as they progress through the grades.

My question is - is there a list of rhythmic rudiments that players of non-percussion instruments should be expected to master? For instance, most people are Ok playing triplets, i.e. three eighth-notes in the time of two eighth notes. But what about playing four eighth notes in the time of five? Or playing sevens against nines, or whatever.

What would be a good list of rhythmic rudiments to have mastered? Or does the fact that it doesn't appear in music exams mean it's not a useful skill to acquire?

  • 1
    Interesting. Maybe not deemed so important as a lot of music is in more standard timing, and the unusual ones are, well, unusual. With percussion, there's probably more need for these sort of questions in exams to fill the large space where little or no harmonic/melodic stuff could go. Have you checked out LCM., Trinity, ABRSM syllabi? – Tim Aug 20 '18 at 12:36
  • 2
    This depends on the instrument. On a monophonic instrument like brass, playing "triplets" should not be a big deal - after all, you are expected to be able to play in 6/8 time as well as in 4/4. On the hand, keyboard players often need to play three notes with one hand in the same time as two (or four) notes with the other hand, which is more like the skill that a drummer needs to demonstrate. (And advanced keyboard players need to be able to play "three notes against two" with all the notes in one hand, while the other hand is playing another different rhythm!) – user19146 Aug 20 '18 at 13:48
  • @Brian I could, as a percussionist, advise you to take a look the way G.L.Stone organized percussion exercises between his three books, especially paying attention to the third, "Mallet Control", in which his idea about gaining "stick control" is transfered to a melodic instrument, in particular, the xylophone. – Hatebit Nov 30 '18 at 15:58
  • Many thanks for the suggestion Agnes. Would you post an actual answer, giving some idea of the exercises as they increase in complexity? I tried looking for the book you suggested, but I cannot find any site that lets me preview page content. – Brian THOMAS Dec 1 '18 at 16:35
  • There's also the most universal exercise, so banal, it might skip anybody's mind: play progressively: 1 nps (note-per-second), 2 nps, 3 nps, 4 nps, 5 nps, 6 nps, 7 nps, 8 nps, 9 nps - and back down. It's actually all about primes and antiprimes. 4=2x2, 6=2x3, 3x2, 8=2x4, 9=3x3 (Messiaen would disagree). After nine, things stabilise, e.g. 10=2x5, 11=messiaen, 12=2x6, 3x4, 13=messiaen, 14=2x7, 15=3x5 (this IS a tricky one though), 16=4x4, 17=messiaen, 18=2x9 (tricky), 19=messiaen, 20=2x10, 21=3x7, and you get the idea. Which is, you can always simplify. Unless it's the french. Then you're stuck. – Hatebit Oct 14 '19 at 12:50

There is no "official" list of rhythmic rudiments for non-percussion instruments,1 but such a list can be inferred by the way rhythm is introduced in various training methods and certificate exams. I give a loosely graded list of rudiments first, with the sources following.2

1 I propose that one reason for this is that in percussion training there is a tighter correlation between rhythm and technique; whereas for other instruments, rhythm is more tightly correlated with sight-reading.

2 "Loosely graded", because, as can be seen from the source, there is variation, sometimes substantial, in how different authors/organizations choose to introduce rhythmic and metrical concepts.

Rhythmic rudiments

I borrow the following language from Richard Hoffman (see Sources, below):
First division: half beats (e.g., eighth notes in 4/4 time) and 1/3 beats (e.g., eighth notes in 6/8 time)
Second division: first division divided by half (e.g., sixteenth notes in 4/4 or 6/8 time)

  1. Whole-beat and first division notations in simple meter
    A. 1-, 2-, and 4-beat notations
    B. Add 3-beat notations and rests
    C. Add anacruses ("pickup" beats)
  2. Whole-beat and first division notations in compound meter
  3. Dotted whole beats (i.e., 1.5 beats), ties, simple syncopations
  4. Second division, including dotted rhythms
  5. Triplets
  6. Three against two
  7. Changing meters
  8. Irregular divisions of the beat (five-tuplets, seven-tuplets)
  9. Four against three
  10. Irregular meters (5/4, 7/8)
  11. Polymeter, cross-rhythm, non-metric measures


Richard Hoffman, The Rhythm Book, 2nd edition (Smith Creek Music, 2009)

  • Simple meter, whole beats plus first division (half-beats)
  • Pickup beats
  • Second division (including dotted rhythm)
  • Dotted and tied whole and first division rhythms
  • Compound meter (beat = dotted quarter; including dotted rhythm and second division)
  • Compound meter with ties (introduce hypermeter)
  • Multiple dots, complex ties, third division
  • Syncopation and hemiola
  • Duplets and triplets
  • Two against three
  • Meter changes (regrouping)
  • Meter changes (constant beat)
  • Meter changes (constant division)
  • Superduplets -triplets
  • Irregular divisions (5, 7)
  • 4:3
  • Asymmetric meter (5, 7)
  • Polymeter, cross-rhythm, non-metric rhythm
  • Early and contemporary music

Anne Carothers Hall, Studying Rhythm, 3rd edition (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005)

  • Simple meters including half-beat (first division)
  • Dotted/ties rhythms (simple meter)
  • Compound meter
  • Second division (simple meter)
  • Dotted rhythm requiring second division (simple meter)
  • Second division (compound meter)
  • Simple meter syncopation
  • Compound meter syncopation
  • More compound meter (9, 12)
  • Triplets
  • 3:2
  • Cut time ("half-note beat")
  • Dotted-half beat
  • Eighth note beat
  • Dotted-eighth beat
  • Further subdivisions
  • Metric changes (simple meters)
  • Metric changes (compound meters)
  • Metric changes (constant division)
  • Metric changes (constant beat)
  • Superduplets -triplets
  • 4:3
  • Irregular divisions
  • Irregular meter
  • Other meters
  • Changing meters with unequal beats
  • Cross-rhythms
  • Metric modulation

Robert Starer, Rhythmic Training (MCA Music Publishing, 1969)

  • whole beats, simple meter
  • first division
  • compound meter
  • second division
  • mixing divisions
  • other beat divisions
  • metric change (constant division)
  • polyrhythm

Washington State Music Teachers Association Music Literacy Program

  • Level 1: whole beats in simple meter
  • Level 2: whole beats in simple meter with dotted half and rests
  • Level 3: first division and ties
  • Level 4: upbeats, dotted quarter
  • Level 5: triplets
  • Level 6: second division, compound meter
  • Level 7: two handed -- pulse in one hand
  • Level 8: rhythms in both hands, count aloud
  • Level 9: same (no counting)
  • Level 10: 3:2

ABRSM Piano 2021-2022 (Sight reading)

  • Initial: whole beats, simple meter, first division
  • Grade 1: add dotted half, more rests
  • Grade 2: add dotted quarter
  • Grade 3: second division, dotted eighth, compound meter
  • Grade 4: upbeats (anacrusis)
  • Grade 5: syncopation (simple)
  • Grade 6: triplets, irregular meter (5)
  • Grade 7: irregular meter (7)
  • Grade 8: add 12/8
  • Thank you for pulling all those separate sources together. Much appreciated! – Brian THOMAS Apr 15 at 12:01

I really wish there were better sources for this.

I made a few of my own for the lack of existing sources.

This may not be exactly what you want, but I took these two concepts as my point of departure:

  • metric level
  • rhythmic unit

Both are explained at Wikipedia's Rhythm page.

Metric level

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Rhythmic unit

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My attempt to combine these two was...

enter image description here

...my intent is to use these for playing on the piano. Of course, it just my own creation. I don't claim these are The rudiments.


I am a student of the banjo. My instructor taught me a series of lessons from Ted Reed's famous "Syncopation - Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer".

Although the lessons are intended for drum, they work fine for a melodic instrument. The idea is to play a scale using the rhythm in the lesson. Or, if the rhythm is vexing, even play just a single note until the rhythm is mastered, and then go back to playing scales.

The first half of the book is all non-syncopated rhythms starting with the very simplest rhythms and increasing in complexity; the second half of the book introduces syncopated rhythms which increase in complexity with each lesson.

Each lesson is in two parts. The first part is repetitive, with each line repeating the same rhythm, for skill building. The second part is not repetitive; it mixes up the rhythms introduced in the first part. This is for practicing sight reading of rhythm.

Standard musical notation is used throughout--there's nothing in the notation that is specific to the drum.


Here's a rough idea from Mallet Control (George Lawrence Stone).
FIRST SET diationic major scale, 4 quavers per note
do do do do re re re re
up/down, repeat in all keys, 20x per key
SECOND SET dia. maj., 4 q's/8 semi-q's alternating per note
do do do do rererererererere
THIRD SET same stuff, except alternating notes between quavers and connected (slurred) "rolls" (free reps of single note), and non-connected "rolls"
do do do do rerrrrrrrrrrrrrmi mi mi mi...
do do do do rerrrrrrrrrrrr' mi mi mi mi...
FOURTH SET ("short roll groups")
dododo * rerere *
in grps of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 notes, SEMI-quavers
FIFTH SET ("dia.scale progs, major and minor")
quavers do re mi * do re mi * progressively adding scale notes, up/down, i.e.
do si la sol do si la sol up to full scale

and so on. Of other interest to you may be:

Grace notes, dia.maj.
quavers doMI doMI reFA reFA...
doMI reFA miSOL...
miDO miDO faRE faRE...
doreDO remiRE mifaMI...
sollasiDO * lasidoRE *...
domisolDO * refalaRE *...
dosolmiDO * relafaRE *...

quavers do do mi do re re fa re...
quavers do do do do re do do do mi do do do...
quavers do do do do re do do do mi do do do...
same as previous but chromatically

in a similar manner (permutations such as)
do do do re re re...
do re mi re mi fa... <<< this one kills it
do si do re do re... <<< this one too
do mi sol re fa la...
do do do re do do do si do do mi do do la do do fa do do...
(same as above but chromatic)
do mi mi re fa fa ...
do mi do re fa re...
do sol do re la re...

min. with added six
semi-quavers do mi(b) sol la do mi(b) sol la... mi(b) sol la do mi(b) sol la do...
in a similar manner, augmented fifth, dominant seventh

NOTE: Adapt to problems particular to your instrument, of course

I hope you get some idea ;)

Now, practice flying Dodo in GTAIII. xD

  • 1
    @Brian tell me if you want some comparison with standard drum rudiments. My attitude is that everyone could draw some conclusions from percussionist drum rudiments. These you can probably find online, they are kept "relevant" by the Percussive Arts Society, I believe, but they are just exercises. Note that in GL Stone's books, a lot of material is just hand permutations, because hand dexterity is the main problem. However, your point about playing something over something else ryhtmically is usually practised by percussionist as well, and it essentially boils down to feeling the accent. – Hatebit Dec 10 '18 at 18:20

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