Understanding Time And Basic Counting of Beats

learning the tempoMost drummers would tell you that the most important aspect of playing is keeping in time. No matter what you play on the drums, whether a beat, fill, solo or rudiment – you have to have at least a basic knowledge of counting and metronome.

Timing and counting can vary depending on the time signature of a particular drum piece or song. Here, I’ll be explaining exactly how you can read time signatures, understand basic drum notation and figure out how to control the drum kit.

The Basics

Believe it or not, you don’t actually need to have a drum kit to understand timing. When you listen to music you may instinctively find yourself tapping your feet or hands. This will usually be to the same rhythm of a song. This is exactly how drum timing works. The only real difference is understanding which drums sound the best to hit at a particular moment.

Generally if you are playing a drum beat you will be using either the hi-hat or ride cymbal to keep the rhythm, and then playing the beat on the bass drum and snare drum. It’s important that you understand when a bar starts and finishes, this way you will be able to understand when to play the bass drum or snare as a transition period between different sections of a song.

Reading Time Signatures

The time signature determines how many beats there are to each bar. The most common time signature is 4/4, also referred to as common time. The top number shows the player how many notes there are in each bar, whilst the bottom number shows you the value of the note that is being played.

The time signature of 4/4 shows that there are four notes in the bar, and that the piece is played with quarter notes. The count for a 4/4 time signature is simply; 1, 2, 3, 4.

There are a large amount of time signatures in music, with the most common forms in drumming being; 2/4, ¾, 4/4, 6/8, and 12/8. Drummers should practice time signatures to a metronome. This can be very helpful in figuring out when a bar starts and ends.

Counting And Timing In Drum Notation

Understanding time and basic counting in sheet music can be very confusing. It is however very basic in comparison to other instruments. The most important part of reading drum music is to check the time signature and metronome mark.

These are both situated at the beginning of a piece, and will inform you of the speed and count of the piece. The metronome mark is located directly above the staff/stave, and is a crochet symbol with a number written next to it. The higher the number the faster the piece. The average speed of most pieces tends to be around 120.

Playing Along To Music

If you are playing with musicians then it’s recommended that you establish an average tempo before you start playing. It will then be the drummer’s job to keep in time, and keep playing an average tempo to the song. This can be practiced with an electronic metronome device.

How to Count Rhythm in Basic Fours

play to the beatLet’s get started on the basic quarter note. The quarter note is the pulse of most forms of music. A measure of music is the piece of music between the vertical lines on the staff. If we are playing four quarter notes in one measure of music, you count just as thought you had four quarters in a dollar. It’s just that simple: 1 2 3 4, and repeat for the next measure.

This is how most music is counted in 4/4 time, also known as common time. This is important because the we are going to build on the quarter note and talk about some other note values such as eighth or sixteenth notes. When we break things down to their fundamentals, the quarter note lives inside of all of those values.

Get To Know Quarter Notes

You may already be familiar with quarter notes even if you haven’t been exposed to any music training yet. The quarter note, being the pulse of the song, is usually the note that you are tapping your foot to when you go to a concert and see your favorite band play. The quarter note is also the interval that we set our metronomes to.

Let’s Take a Look at Some Exercises to Practice With



Download the pdf file for this video lesson here…

Exercise 1 keeps things at their most simple by only using the snare.

Exercise 2 adds in a hi-hat on every quarter note and reduces the snare to only playing on the second and fourth notes.

Exercise 3 expands on exercise two by adding the bass drum to beats one and three. You may recognize this as a very common beat in popular music.

Exercises 4 and 5 are both two measure exercises. The take that basic rock beat from exercise three and add in a simple fill afterwards.

Check Out This Ever Growing Resource of Drumming Instructions


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