Revisiting the 'Ancients'

An Online Review of the "Moeller Book(part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6)

Tommy William Hanson    BA, MUSIC   N.A.R.D.     

Example of a vintage, deep snare drum

  Revisiting the 'Ancients'

drupal hit
counter  Visitors From All Countries 

*...Vintage drumming ... vintage snare drumming - using the traditional 'OPEN STYLE' approach ... is one of the older schools of drumming there is.

This traditional drumming style, which is described and depicted in video examples on this page (and the following pages), should be dedicated to the 20th Century's best known proponent of this ancient & unique drumming tradition ... that man is Sanford A. Moeller.

[ Note, this article was posted in 2004, when drum forums were referring to Moeller's book with little accuracy or understanding ]


Video examples from all articles...HERE     

Some refer to Moeller's book as a rudimental drum instructor.  This is true.

Some say that it is a manual that teaches the Moeller system of drumming ... this statement is not entirely accurate.

The important thing to remember, however, is that Moeller, almost single handedly represented a very distinct drumming style for many decades.  Video examples contained, herein, are meant to show 'traditional' Moeller ... right down to the usual controversy concerning the 'little finger grip'.  One might ask, was this his innovation?  See below...


"The stick in the right hand should be held between the and fingers lightly, with the little finger pressing it, so as to play through the hand, as a man would use in stick in fencing.  The arms must be habituated to move with the greatest ease, while the shoulder joints and wrists are exercised in performing the principal part." 

THE DRUMMERS AND FIFER'S GUIDE By George B. Bruce and Dan D. Emmitt 1862
Wm A. Pond and Company


This article is an OVERVIEW of some of the concepts found in Sanford Moeller's book.  The method described in the 'Moeller book' (as to how to play the snare drum proficiently) is based on 'old' school.  Again, to help understand this approach, included below are several videos and illustrations, such as the drummer's 'ancient right hand grip' (used by schooled drummers in the past as referenced above, i.e., the 'ancients').  

Moeller is an interesting subject, because, he was that unique someone who studied very old materials, followed what went before and added innovations to the general knowledge for future drummers to consider.  We should do all we can to preserve his contributions to the art of snare drumming.   

After all, what other recognized expert, from the 20th century (relating to rudimental drumming) made the effort, to seek out drummers who had served in the US civil war?  And what other rudimental expert from the 20th century, also mentored drummers who became famous in the field of jazz drumming?  The answer is Moeller!


Moeller:  "The author finds, in his 15,000 mile trip around the US in 1925, that there are hundreds of drummers with this accomplishment", (that is, hundreds of players who studied and mastered the rudiments sufficiently enough to play the Downfall of Paris - using the seven stroke roll instead of the five stroke!)

Without question, Moeller truly believed that rudiments are the basis of accomplished drumming ... whether it be rudimental drumming or otherwise.  He also writes that when drummers meet on the basis of discussing rudiments, the exchange will usually establish "the beginning of a life long friendship".

Even though one may not appreciate the musical interests of a fellow drummer ... WE (ALL OF US) SHOULD STILL HAVE ONE THING IN COMMON - practicing rudimental exercises.  There should be agreement on this basic point, to say the least (no matter what kind of music a drummer wishes to play)!  Refer to the first video clip (below).  It is offered in the spirit of what I believe Moeller wanted to emphasize to his readers:

...for centuries, drummers have been playing like this ... don't loose track of this art form...

The 'Moeller book' has connected the 19th century with the 21st...



Watch video in repeat mode ... or (loop)

When viewing the above video, notice the style of what is being demonstrated.  In this particular clip, disregard how easy the sticking is, and concentrate on the grips.  The examples (in this article) are performed using simple and uncomplicated drumming ideas.  All examples utilize the suggested grips pictured on pages 4 & 5 in Moeller's book.

One can 'see' from analyzing the style in the above video clip, why the 'ancients' were able to play for extremely long periods of time.  It was because of the easy and natural approach of the drummers' posture and stick grips (to include loose, relaxed muscles).  

Keep in mind that the so called 'Moeller grip' for the right hand, may take some time to develop.  Increasing the strength of the little finger is a gradual process.  Who knows how many weeks or months it will take to train the right hand (both hands!) to use the 'little finger grip'? 




I am convinced that Moeller achieved a monumentally important task, during the fast paced decade of the 1920's.  History tells us that Moeller learned how a 'vintage deep drum', circa the mid 1800's, was played.  The knowledge came from veterans of the US civil war (drummers who were led by George B. Bruce and Gardiner A. Strube).  Therefore, Moeller's book and the pictures are of historical value, to say the least.


Why has Sanford A. Moeller been so mysteriously popular among many teachers and their students for over eight decades?  Perhaps it's because of the fact that some of the knowledge contained in his book, includes oral information dating back to the American civil war, and even earlier.  Moeller had researched the drumming traditions of previous times from various countries.  His genius was to synthesize and add his own innovations to what he had learned.

Yet another reason his book survives, is simply because of the fact that he made use of the camera to demonstrate the classic 'vintage' approach and style he meant to show.  Because of the quality of the photographs, in Moeller's book, it is difficult to focus (really comprehend) as to what is being shown.  However, if one is willing to take the time to study the images, the drumming style will eventually become clear.  The pictures show how they ACTUALLY went about beating a drum, one hundred and fifty years ago!



Open style and the style that 'pipe drummers' use ... are not of the same school.  The latter, of course, is a style that requires a pressed, buzzed, orchestral rendering of the roll (just to name a few terms to describe a 'closed' roll).  Besides the differences in style, as to how the roll is rendered, the two schools come from using 2 different grips, as well.

Lest there be no misunderstanding ... drumming in a pipe band is not a better style of drumming ... it is just 'another' style, and so forth.  Few ever master both - or choose to master both approaches.  To do so, would mean that one is comfortable using 2-different grips (the little finger grip - vintage approach) and the thumb fulcrum grip (modern).  

Most teachers and instructors usually suggest to their students, anyway, that they should practice rolls both 'open' and 'closed'.  When a student hears this statement, they are being informed, basically, that different styles of drumming stem from how the roll is played.  Needless to say, if you practice rolls both 'open' and 'closed' ... you'll be fine.  And if the pupil can use two different grips as well, all the better.  


Moeller's chief reason to compile & write his book was that he likely observed that too many players, evolving into the next generation of drummers, were being 'schooled by the general run'... future drummers who were wanting, in terms of mastering a 'broad, flexible system' (to paraphrase Moeller's own words).

If drummers master the instruction given in Moeller's book (many believe), those drummers will have learned a more versatile method than what others have been taught.

Notable Visitors (below):   Click Here ... for other E-MAILS

Bill Maling      Author - Rudiments and Rudimental Drumming  ( American Patriots Rudimental Drummers - 'Hall of Fame' )  "I enjoyed reading the web site"

Ed Law            CADRE    "Nice to see some one else is carrying on the tradition" 

John Dowlan   World Drum Corps Hall of Fame Member  -  Author of  An Introduction to Back Sticking  "Thank you so much for making my day and allowing me to read, view and dwell on your terrific website"

Back To Top              NEXT       

I have received an e-mail regarding what N.A.R.D. stands for... 

N.A.R.D.  Stands for... 

National Association of Rudimental Drummers (no longer active) 


Readers are encouraged to consult the following...


 Reactivated  N.A.R.D. Organization (Since 2008)


U.S.A.R.D.   The United States Association of Rudimentql Drummers


C.A.D.R.E.  Canadian Associates Drumming Rudimental Excellence



Copyright 2004-2017  All Rights Reserved, Tommy William Hanson