How to Read Drums Music Notation in Under 10 Minutes

music theoryLearning music theory sounds scary. To know that something as seemingly freeform and spontaneous as music can contain so many rules can seem disheartening.

The best thing is that you don’t need to learn all  the aspects 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 notation, this is not the case with drummers. Getting timing and rhythm right is of utmost importance.

Fundamentals Of Reading Drum Notations

Without further ado, let’s get into the basics of reading 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 examples below, we will simply be using whole notes.

Let’s Get Started…

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.

how to read drums notation

Note the snare hits placement, 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 notate

read drumsheet music

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.

Learn Three Voices

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.

Identifying All The Patterns

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 played.

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 this pdf file on reading basic notation.

I hope this lesson clears up the questions that I had been receiving on how to read sheet music and notations. Have fun!

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