Learn How To Read Drum Notation And Sheet Music
Although most drummers do not like to admit it, being able to read sheet music and notation is a very important aspect to drumming. It took me a number of years before I decided to learn this material, but when I did, I was surprised on how much it helps. Learning how to read music, and how to understand drum notation brings you to a new level of drumming – a musicians level. Not only will feel more educated, you will be able to read sheet music, and turn it into music. So let’s get started!
We will begin by going over the basic symbols and notations for standard music. When you first look at a page of music, you will notice it looks just like a bunch of lines. This is called the bar, and it is where all the notes you play will be placed on. Standard music, with melodic instruments, comes with 5 lines. However, with drumming notation, it can be anywhere from one line to 5 lines. On the left of the bar, you will notice a fraction. This fraction is the time signature of the music piece you are paying. Sometimes with sheet music, they will not have a time signature, or they will have a C in place of the fraction. This just means the piece is played in Common time, or 4/4.
There will be many measures to the music. What this means is in order to organize the music easier, and allow for simpler reading, they break up each section into measures. These measures are divided by a line. An easy way to look at this is by thinking each measure consists of one whole note. Within each measure are smaller notes, (quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes…) that you play to fill in the whole note in the measure. Make sense? Here is an example of a basic sheet of music.
If you didn’t already know, the black dots are called notes. They can be on any line, or in between any line of the music. They can also have different shapes and designs. I will get into those a little later.
The first thing you need to know about drum notation, is not everyone has the same way of doing things. When it comes to piano, and guitar, there is a standard to what each line represents (as for notes). However, with drums there is no real guideline. Fortunately, most music is written the same – or at least fairly similar. I will show you the basic notation for most drum music used today.
What you want to do is break down every space on the measure, and make every line and space represent something. Confusing? Let me explain. The space right above the first line represents the hi hat. Hi hats and cymbals are usually marked with an “X” instead of a dot like regular notes. Here is an example:
For the toms, we will use the blanks spaces in the middle to represent each tom. The first space (below the top line) will be the high tom. The second space will be your Medium tom, and the third space will be your low tom. You may have more than three toms on your kit, or in the music, this may be indicated as a dot below the 5 standard lines. Here is an example of the toms:
The snare is usually the most important one to see. Therefore we will use the line right in the middle to represent the snare. Here is an example:
Cymbals are usually placed above the hi hat. They are marked as an “X” as well. You may come across a diamond shape, this indicates a bell stroke on your ride or other cymbal. Here is an example:
As for your feet, they are usually placed towards the bottom. The bass drum will be the last line on the music. Your left foot, (or hi hat foot) will be right below the bass drum line. Again, since this is a cymbal, it will be marked as an “X”
What Drum Notation Looks Like
So, with all this in mind, let’s see what these notes actually look like. There is a lot to learn here, but once you get the idea of how things work, it’s not that bad.
There you have it! These are the note values and what they represent for drumming notation. Notice how as the value of the note gets smaller, the more tails they have? So if you see a note with 3 lines on the tail, you would know it is a 32nd note. Once you have a grasp on basic sheet music reading, please continue learning by reading “understanding sheet music, rests”. Remember that you should always practice with a metronome when playing the drums. That will explain the other symbols and notes you will see that may not have been explained in this article. If you have any questions or comments about this drum lesson feel free to email me!
By: Dave Atkinson
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