How To Read Drum Notation: Quick And Simple With 5 Tips?

By JohnPascuzzi

Drum notation is a type of music notation unique to percussion instruments. It is quick and simple to learn. Consider it a language for drums. If you can read and write drum notation, you can communicate musically with others.

To read drum notation, you must first learn the various symbols. These symbols indicate which part of the drum set to play and when to play it. You’ll be able to play a rhythm or drum beat even if you’ve never heard it before if you learn how to read drum notation.

Information about drum notation

Information about drum notation
Information about drum notation

Drum notation is distinct from sheet music, despite the fact that they appear similar and share some concepts. The symbols on the staff in sheet music correspond to different notes. The symbols in drum notation represent various parts of the drum set to be played (snare, bass drum, hi-hat, etc.). This is beneficial for beginners learning to coordinate their limbs, as it aids in the development of the necessary skill sets to comfortably keep steady time while also playing the correct part of the drum set.

The notes in drum notation are written on the staff and separated by vertical bar lines. A “measure” is the distance between the bar lines. Within each measure, you will typically count beats while playing different notes on the drum set.

Drum notation is similar to sheet music in that measures are counted and read in the same manner. Learning to read and write this part of the musical language will help you develop a strong sense of timing and rhythm control.

Drum notation reading guide

Drum notation, like the English language, is read from left to right. The staff is composed of five lines and four spaces, but notes can be placed above or below the staff. The notes on the staff are placed based on which part of the drum set should be played at any given time. The bass drum is not in the same position on the staff as the snare or ride cymbal, as shown below.

Dots represent drums, while an “x” represents cymbals. These symbols are usually accompanied by “stems” that explain how to count the beat shown.

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Drum notation reading 

Drum notation reading 
Drum notation reading

When learning to read drum notation, musicians should be familiar with a few symbols, especially if they only have a four- or five-piece drum set.

Bass. The bass drum notation is located at the bottom of the staff. The bass drum is the largest drum on the drum set and produces the lowest note. It is often referred to as the “kick drum” because it is used with a foot pedal.

Tom on the floor. The floor tom notation is located in the third space from the top of the staff. The floor tom (or low tom) is the drum set’s next lowest note. It is also known as a floor tom because it can rest on the ground using its legs.

Toms 1 and 2. Toms are written on the first space from the top of the staff and the line below it. This drum, also known as the high tom, produces a note that is higher than the floor tom and bass drum. This drum is where many drum fills begin, and many drum sets have more than one tom.

Snare. The snare drum is frequently regarded as the primary drum in a drum set. It is written in the second space from the top of the staff. Many drum beats are built around the pattern of the bass and snare drums. The snare wires attached to the bottom head of the drum produce the famous snare sound.

Ride. This cymbal is frequently the largest on a drum kit and is used for a variety of purposes. The ride cymbal is frequently tapped with the tip of the stick to simulate “riding,” but it can also serve as a crash cymbal. It is located at the very top of the staff.

Hi-hat. The hi-hat notation is located above the top line on the staff and is frequently used as a primary time-keeping tool. The hi-hat is a pair of cymbals used with a special stand that includes a foot pedal. Drummers can control the type of note produced by stepping on the hi-hat pedal and tightening the two cymbals together before striking them (closed hi-hat) or letting them lightly bounce off of each other (open hi-hat).

Crash number one and crash number two. A crash cymbal is a large, loud cymbal that is frequently used to emphasize different rhythms in music. Crash cymbals come in a variety of sizes and tones, as well as a variety of styles and sounds. This cymbal differs from the others on the drum set in that it is frequently struck with force and can help elevate a piece of music’s dynamic movements. It is written above the hi-hat, above the top line on the staff. The second crash cymbal will be notated in the space above the first crash on drum sets with two crash cymbals.

Drum’s reading on the music staff

Music is frequently divided into even (or occasionally odd) groups of space. In music, we use “measures” to organize the rhythms of a song into these repeated groupings, making it easier to count through a song. We use a time signature to communicate which grouping we should count.

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Time signature reading 

Time signature reading
Time signature reading

A time signature is made up of two numbers that are displayed as a fraction. The top number indicates the number of beats to count within one measure, and the bottom number indicates the type of note that receives the beat (quarter notes, eighth notes, etc.). Think of the time signature as a ruler. You’re keeping track of time, or more specifically, the interval between the notes you’re playing.

In a 4/4 time signature, for example, a quarter note represents one beat, implying that you strike the drum once per beat. In a 4/4 time signature, a whole note represents four beats, so you strike the drum once every four beats.

Half notes, whole notes, quarter notes, thirty-second notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes are some of the most common drum beats. There are various types of triplets that can be played, in which three notes are played in the space normally occupied by two notes.

Repeat sign reading

A repeat sign instructs you to do exactly what it says: repeat a pattern. Having said that, there are several different repeat signs to learn in drum notation.

Rep the sign. Many drum parts are played in patterns, which means they are played multiple times in a row. A repeat sign in drum notation instructs the drummer to return to the beginning of the section and play the same part again.

Repeat sign with one bar. A one-bar repeat sign is similar to the symbol for the percent sign. Two dots will be visible, one on each side of a diagonal line. The one-bar repeat sign indicates that the previous measure should be repeated for an additional measure before moving on in the music.

Repeat sign with two bars. The two-bar repeat sign indicates that the previous two measures should be repeated before continuing. It has the same appearance as a one-bar repeat sign, but it has two lines instead of one. The number 2 is frequently written above the symbol.

What is the difference between drum notation and drum tablature?

Drum tab notation is a condensed form of drum notation. Drum tablature, as opposed to traditional music notation, employs a series of vertical and horizontal lines with various characters to represent rhythm and patterns for the drummer to play. Every drummer is unique and learns in a unique way.

Drum tab notation can help new drummers learn the fundamentals, almost as a stepping stone to drum notation. Drum tablature, on the other hand, is complicated in and of itself, and is largely a relic of a time when computers could not easily support the layout of drum notation.

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How to attack the drums

Each drum can be played in a variety of ways. Each produces a different outcome. Drummers are in charge of both tempo (speed) and dynamic control (this is sometimes referred to as volume control, or feel control). There are various symbols used to instruct the drummer on how hard or soft to play and in what manner.

Drums are naturally loud, so you don’t always need to strike hard to get volume. You can control the stick with your thumb and index finger while balancing the motion of the stroke with your other fingers.

How to attack the drums
How to attack the drums

Drums in action

Depending on the type of grip you use, there are several ways to strike a drum. The sound of the drum is determined by how you grip the sticks. You can play with a tight or loose grip, as well as different grip types such as traditional or matched grip. Make sure to hold the sticks correctly and comfortably balance them in your hands.

The accent drum technique

Drummers can “accent” various parts of rhythms by making certain notes sound louder, softer, lower, or higher, or by using a different part of the drum set.

An accent is created when the drummer opens the hi-hat and strikes it during a drum beat, then presses back down on the foot pedal to close it, creating an open-and-close rhythm. The accent symbol is usually placed directly above the accented note.

Marcato drum technique

A marcato technique is defined by one note being played louder or more forcefully than the notes around it. This is an effective way to emphasize notes in a drum beat. It appears as a vertical wedge above the intended note on the page.

The ghost notes drum technique

Ghost notes are frequently played on a snare drum as light, bouncy notes that can sound like many quick notes played in succession. This technique, which can be played with both the right and left hands, is frequently used in drum beats to help create more rhythmic movements within a piece of music.

The rim-click drum technique

The drummer uses a rim-click, or cross-stick, technique when he or she places the stick across the drum and taps the rim. You can use the shoulder of the stick to strike the rim, or you can turn the stick around and use the bottom side. Each produces a distinct sound. This technique is frequently used in soft, quiet music.

A flam drum technique

A flam note is produced when a drummer strikes a drum with both hands at the same time while spacing the notes slightly apart. It sounds like two notes, but they’re so close together that they feel like one.

A drag drum technique

A basic drag rudiment is performed by striking two notes on the drum quickly, followed by a single stroke with the other hand. When three notes are played tightly and quickly, they sound close together. Accent the final note of the drag rudiment to make it sound “completed.”

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The ability to hit cymbals

When it comes to selecting cymbals for your drum set, you have a lot of options. While reading drum notation, you may come across any of the following techniques depending on what you play.

The ability to hit cymbals
The ability to hit cymbals

The cymbal or the hi-hat

A drummer’s primary time-keeping tool is the hi-hat. You can create a tight sound between the two cymbals by pressing your foot down on the pedal. The more you let go of the pedal, the “washier” the sound of your hi-hat will be.

The crash bell drum technique

You can emphasize a part by using the bell of a cymbal. Drummers frequently use the drum stick’s shoulder to increase the volume of the bell.

The choke crash drum technique

When muting a cymbal after it has been struck, a choke crash technique is used. When performed alongside other instruments, this often creates a “tight” feeling in the music. To do this, strike the cymbal (usually a crash cymbal) normally and then quickly grab it with one of your hands to reduce its sound.

A China drum technique

A China cymbal is frequently used in place of a loud crash cymbal. It comes across as heavy and “trashy.” This cymbal can be used to emphasize loud sections of music.

Splash drum technique

A splash cymbal is a small cymbal that is used to emphasize light sections of music. The notes don’t last as long as those of a ride or crash cymbal because of their small size. As a result, this cymbal can be used to add a lot of versatility to music’s lighter dynamic sections.

The open hi-hat drum technique

An open hi-hat is frequently played by removing your foot from the hi-hat pedal and letting the cymbals bounce off each other. This is commonly heard in loud sections of music.

The closed hi-hat drum technique

The opposite of an open hi-hat is a closed hi-hat technique, in which the two cymbals are tightly pressed against each other by pressing down on the foot pedal to produce a very tight, crisp sound.

The loose hi-hat drum technique

A loose hi-hat technique falls somewhere between a closed and an open hi-hat technique. Typically, you will lightly press down on the foot pedal, allowing the two cymbals to bounce off each other but not so much that they resonate for an extended period of time. This technique can be used to create a louder dynamic within a piece of music.

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Useful tips for learning to read drum notation

When first learning to read drum notes, keep the following helpful hints in mind to ensure success.

Useful tips for learning to read drum notation
Useful tips for learning to read drum notation

Divide the lesson into smaller pieces

When learning a new song on the drums, divide it into distinct sections and work on them one at a time. Then link them together. This trick will help you memorize the song’s parts faster.

Take your time

New drummers must learn to coordinate their limbs. Learning to play the drums is a mental as well as a physical challenge. A good way for new drummers to learn different patterns of right and left strokes on the drums is to practice the rudiments.

Your brain, like learning to play a video game for the first time, must learn right and left striking patterns. Be patient as this may take some time.

Make time every day to practice

Drummers in their early stages must train their brains to use their limbs in novel ways. Setting aside time to practice every day will help to reinforce good habits and result in more consistent improvement than doing longer, less frequent practice sessions.

Think about drum notation software

Drum notation software is useful for learning to read and write music. Consider using different applications to help you grasp new concepts behind the drum set as you learn the language. A metronome is also an essential tool for beginning drummers to help them find the beat and keep time. When a metronome is used in students’ practice routines, their tempo control will improve dramatically.

Make rhythms easier by using words

Learning to read drum notation is similar to learning a new language for beginners. Make associations early on to help you remember what certain things on the drums mean. Certain words, for example, contain syllables that correspond to different rhythms.

  •       To remember how to play eighth notes, use the word “pizza.”
  •       Quarter notes can be represented by the word “cheese.”
  •       For sixteenth notes, “Pepperoni” can be used.
  •       “anchovy” for triplets, and so on.

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You’re ready to start playing now that you understand the fundamentals of how to read drum notation for beginners, how to distinguish it from drum tab notation, and some fundamental drum techniques.

There are many similarities between drum notation and music written for other instruments, but there are also many significant differences. Knowing how to recognize and interpret the notes, rests, dynamics, and directions in a drum chart will help you become a better player and a stronger overall musician, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player.

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