Paradiddles, Practice, Patience, Progress and Perfection

In our August, 2011 rodmaking class we had our fourth student from Australia. It's always humbling and an honor to have people come from so far away to attend the class, and without fail the Aussies have been some of the best students and most fun folks to be around.

Upon arrival he was pretty freaked out because the airline had managed to lose his luggage, and amongst his belongings was a cherished cane rod his wife had given him for his 50th birthday! Yikes! But all ended well when the courier arrived with his suitcase, which he immediately opened to find the rod safely inside just as he had packed it.

When he showed me the rod I couldn't help but smile, because the rod was made by another former student from Australia, Nick Taransky. Since seeing his fantastic work, I've been thinking a lot about paradiddles. I know what you are thinking : what the heck is a paradiddle, and what does it have to do with rodmaking? It turns out there's quite a connection between the two.

Back when I was a kid I played the drums. One of the first things a drummer learns(if they have a good teacher) are what are called Drum Rudiments. Drum Rudiments are exercises designed to develope technique and coordination. They are similar to a pianist or violinst learning scales. There are 26 rudiments, and most of them have funny names like paradiddle or ratamacue. The rudiments are not music, any more than scales are music. But they teach technique and control and discipline that can be applied to make music.

A paradiddle is played by hitting one tap with the right hand, followed by one tap with the left hand, followed by two with the right- RLRR The next move is left followed by right followed by two lefts -LRLL. Par-a-diddle, par-a-diddle. Each rudiment is practiced by starting slowly and gradually increasing speed, while trying to keep everything nice and even. At first, they are very awkward because your hands are doing something new and are in the process of training. In addition to speed, some folks practice with a metronome to learn to keep tempo constant. Speed and consistency.

This clip demonstrates a paradiddle, and this youtube clip is the classic Buddy Holly song, Peggy Sue. You'll notice that the drummer's riff is just a simple paradiddle all the way through! Another example of a rudiment : This clip demonstrates a single stroke roll, and this is Buddy Rich taking it(and other rudiments) to the highest level.

So, what does this have to do with rodmaking? In our rodmaking classes, we focus on rodmaking basics...the rudiments, if you will. I believe that amongst the skills needed to build a cane rod are a set of basic tasks, all of which need to be mastered if you want to get good at building a rod:

All of these skills can be taught and learned(in a rudimentary way) within a week. But to get good at rodmaking, you have to practice, and practice takes discipline. If you practice, you will progress, and as you progress you'll move closer to perfection. You need to be patient, because you'll never get good results by trying to rush or taking shortcuts or thinking there's some easier way or by giving up. It would be like thinking you could play piano like Horowitz by practicing a couple hours a week(or month) if only you got a few pointers from him, or thinking he got to that level because he knows a few secret tricks.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success, he opines that mastery takes 10,000 hours of practice. That's a long time for a person who builds rods as a hobby and may only be able to spend a few hours a week at the craft, while a person building full time might take less than 5 years to reach the 10,000 hour milestone. Personally, I don't like the term 'master' and shudder when it's thrown about, especially at me. There is no end to learning, and you are only as good as your last rod. But I can guarantee if you practice and focus carefully and with discipline on the rudiments you will get better. Likewise, if you don't aspire to get better, the rod you make in your 10,000th hour won't be much better than your first- you'll just be 10,000 hours older.

I got to see a couple vivid examples of the results of practice recently, both in Nick's rod and another by a maker who by any standard is considered amongst the greatest rodmakers ever.

When I examined Nick's rod I knew at once how hard he's been working since he took the class in 2002. Students leave the class with a good foundation, but how far they go is only limited by how much they are willing to practice and how hard they work. I can take credit for teaching Nick some rudiments, but the work is his alone.

In the second case I was really amazed. I met a guy who had several cane rods and amongst them was one that could be charitably described as a typical amateur's early efforts. The rod had cheesy aluminum hardware(with a cork check that was anodized and didn't match the rest of the bright metal), the grip was not the greatest and had unusually bad cork, the wraps had gaps and boogers, the reel seat filler was blase', the varnish was so-so. The ferrules were spectacularly crude....the worst I've ever seen.  I won't say who made the rod, because that isn't the point and because my early rods were no better and by some standards worse.

The point is that no rodmaker comes fully-formed from their first rods. This builder went on to work every day(practice), got better as he went along(progression) until he reached the pinnacle of the craft(perfection). So, if you want to get better at cane rodbuilding, get off your butt and practice your paradiddles!

Special thanks to rodmaker Chris Lantzy for the paradiddle example!

Copyright j.d. wagner, 2011