How to Read Drums Music Notation
Learning music theory is scary. To know that something as seemingly
freeform and spontaneous as music contains so many rules can seem disheartening as well.
The best thing is that you don’t need to learn all of theory. The most important theoretical
concept is the ability to read music. Guitarists and pianists aren’t the only musicians who music reading skills
benefit, though; drummers gain just as much, if not more than both.
As with all forms of music, drum playing is also communicated from one musician to another musician
in the form of music notation.
Most musicians that I know of (guitarists and pianists) often pay no heed to learning how to read
music as they often skip forward to learning drumming techniques or playing songs that they like.
For drummers, I need to warn you: DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE. Although other
musicians can often get away without learning to read music, this is not the case with drumming. In drumming, it is
of utmost importance to be able to read drums notation.
Without further ado, let’s get into the basics of drum notation.
First off, you will want to buy some manuscript paper and keep it handy at all times. The best way
to ingrain these notes into your brain is by repetition. Once you learn them, try writing them down and copying
them multiple times until you relate the symbol on the specific line with the specific voice of the instrument.
This may sound boring, but it is a huge step in memorizing the notes.
Also, before you begin this online drum lesson, be sure
you have an understanding of note values. Today we will only be learning voices. This means that you need to know
the difference between an eighth note, a sixteenth note, a dotted note, etc. For our example we will simply be
using whole notes.
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Our first set of voices will be the snare, the open hi-hat, and the bass drum.
These are three of the most basic voices used in modern music. As a result, these are the notes you
will see the most often. All notes are transcribed into their respective and proper placements.
Our first note is the snare. This is a full on snare single stroke.
Note the snare hits placemen, between the third and fourth line.
The second note is an open hi-hat stroke. Notice how the note is a circle with an X through it.
This is how a hi-hat stroke is notated.
Finally, take a look at the third measure. This is a bass drum kick. Note how it is the lowest
voice, and it also has the lowest placement. This is because it is the lowest note value.
To best learn these three voices, try notating a pattern using them. As long as you understand note
values, creating a pattern with these three voices should be simple. The best thing is, these notes stay in the
same placement regardless of pattern. This means that the hi-hat will always be in the same place, and regardless
of the stem attached, it will still be a circle with a note as a note head.
Our second set of voices will be the ride, the medium crash, and the high crash. These are some of the most
basic cymbal voices used in music today.
The first note is the ride, a full hit. Notice the thin X that is used to notate it. This is a whole note hit,
which means to make a different value, you would simple add the proper stem to the X.
Next is a medium crash. Notice the thicker, bolder X. This is the proper notation, so when you write out a
medium crash hit, be sure to make a bolder X.
Finally, the last voice is the high crash hit. This is the same note as the medium crash, only
a half notes value above.
Just like the first three, try using these three to transcribe
your own pattern. When you feel comfortable, and can remember note names by simply seeing the notes, try
writing a pattern using all six.
Now, you should probably noticed that the main difference in drums notation as compared to piano
and guitar playing is that the lines and symbols on a music stave refers to different actions or parts of the drums
to be played.
I am sure that most of you guys are familiar with the standard EGBDF (Every Good Boy Does Fine)
music notation whereby most instruments like guitar and piano base their music notation on. When a music note is
depicted on a particular line on the music stave, it means that the pitch of the corresponding music note is
On the drums, certain symbols and lines on the music stave is crucial for your performance
dynamics as it depicts how the drums should be
played. For beginners, I urge you to download the following pdf file on reading basic drums notation. This
lesson is brought to you courtesy of Railroad media.
Download this pdf to understand the basic symbols of drums
I hope this lesson clears up the questions that I had been receiving from drummers on how to read
drum notations. Have fun!