How to Read Drum Notations

Drum notation is straightforward and similar to regular notation.

Drum notation uses the same basic note values and symbols as instrumental music. Although the notes will generally appear in slash notation instead of the round note heads of pitched instrumental music. Some symbols that the percussionist must learn to apply specific drum techniques differ from instrumental music. Learning these symbols will make it possible to interpret and read all drum music.

Step 1

Study basic instrumental notation first. Learn about whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes and 16th notes. These note values commonly appear in drum notation. The whole note is a clear note head without a stem and is worth four beats. Half notes have a clear note head with a stem and have a value of two beats. Quarter notes have a filled-in note head with a stem and are worth one beat. Eighth and 16th notes look like quarter notes with flags on the stems. The eighth notes have one flag and are worth half a beat. The 16th notes have two flags and are worth a quarter of a beat.

Step 2

Memorize time signatures. The top number of a time signature tells you the number of beats in a measure. The bottom number tells you what note value is worth one beat. In a 3/2 time signature, there are three beats in the measure and the half note is worth 1 beat. This makes the whole note worth two beats and divides all the other notes proportionally as well.

Step 3

Locate the position for the cymbals. The cymbal placement is the highest instrument on the staff. It is shaped like an asterisk instead of a note head and has a slash mark through the center.

Step 4

Learn to read hi-hat notation. The high-hat is placed on the top of the staff with an X instead of a note head. The hi-hat pedal is located just below the staff and uses the same X note head.

Step 5

Identify where a tom is located on the staff. The tom occurs on the fourth space from the bottom.

Step 6

Determine where the snare drum is located on the staff. The snare will be placed in the middle of the staff and may often be written with a slash mark instead of a note head.

Step 7

Find the bottom line of the staff. This is where the bass drum is placed. The bass drum will usually be written as a standard quarter note.

Step 8

Identify drum rolls by a series of three slashes that extend through the stem.


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