How to Read Drum Notation

Most drummers fail to realize the importance of music theory; however learning how to read drum notation is very crucial. You would be surprised how many drummers actually know how to read drum notation. With the ability to read sheet music, you can learn much faster and more effectively. You will be much more valuable as a drummer if you can read drum notation, and you will find you will get more “gigs”. So why is it that most drummers don’t learn this? Well, it’s mainly because there is such a lack of drum music out there. Also, most drummers teach themselves by ear, and fail to read sheet music at all. Let’s break this stereotype by learning some basics to drum notation. Later, you will also want to learn how to count time signatures.

Drum Notation

For beginners, drum notation all starts with sheet music. All beats and patterns will be notated on sheet music. Do not let this scare you at first – it is actually very easy to follow along. Each space and line represents a different drum voice. This is not always a constant like with piano or other melodic music; it can change depending on who is writing it. For example, the bottom line is usually the bass drum; however different drummers may write the bass drum on the middle. Drum notation is pretty easy to figure out by looking at it, but if you can’t determine which is which, look for a legend somewhere in the source. Each section in the sheet music is called a bar or measure. If you are I the time signature 4/4, this would be 4 counts. So when you are following along with sheet music, you would count 4 counts between every bar. The time signature is usually stated on the beginning of the music piece, just in case you are ever unsure. Now that you are a litter more familiar with sheet music, it is time to learn what drum notation is, and how to read it.

Drum Notation

There are 2 main notes that you will see with drum notation. First you have a regular note that looks like a black oval; the second is an X shape. The X shape is usually used for cymbals and hi hats. The regular note can be used for all otter drum voices. The thing you really want to be looking for is the stem, or the lines above each note. This will tell you whether it is a quarter note, eighth note, 16th note, etc… The way you can tell this, is by the amount of “tails” the note has. The tail is the horizontal line that sits at the top of the stem. If it has no tail, the note is a quarter note, if it has 2 tails, it is an 8th note, 3 tails means it’s a 16th note, and so on.

Drum Notation

Once you know what kind of note it is, and where it is played on the sheet music (which count), all you need to do is match that up with the drum voice it is associated with. This is where things can change from sheet to sheet. However, the majority of drum notation is very similar - hi hats on top, snare in the middle, and bass drum on bottom. Look at the examples provided to hopefully get a better understanding of things. Remember, when you are playing off of sheet music to take things slow. Count out loud and follow along so you get the flow of things.

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