How to Read Drummer Music

Drummer’s music, sometimes called rhythmic or percussion notation, employs much of the same basic concepts as mainstream music notation. However, there are some changes to the style of notation and method of notation that drummers need to familiarize themselves with. Drummer notation isn't too difficult to learn once a little time is spent studying and reading this unique type of music. Drum sets can vary in their instrumentation, but they most commonly include a snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, and, at least, two tom toms.

Step 1

The hi-hat is played with the foot.

Playing the hi-hat is an essential part of being able to read drum music. There are two basic ways to play the hi-hat. Hi-hats cymbals in the score will either be located on the top of the staff, in the space of the pitch G, or below the staff on the pitch D in the treble clef.

When the marking is on the top space, this indicates that a hi-hat should be closed and performed with the left foot, while hit with a drumstick in the rhythm indicated by the tempo. This symbol looks like an X with a stem coming off of it. To notate an open hi-hat, a circle is placed on the X. Notating it as half open is illustrated as a line through that circle.

When the marking is on the bottom of the staff, it indicates to use your foot to open and close the hi-hat, this is done without the use of a drumstick. This symbol looks like an X with a stem coming off of it. Sometimes the performer is instructed to close the hi-hat together and let it ring. This is done by placing a circle below the X.

Step 2

The ride cymbal is usually found lower than the hi-hat.

Play the ride cymbal just like the hi-hat, except the notation is on the top F line in the treble clef. To play a ride cymbal, a drummer should hit the cymbal in the rhythm indicated.

Step 3

Crash cymbals are singular cymbals hit with the drumstick.

Play the crash cymbal by hitting the cymbal with the drumstick. It is notated above the staff where the A line would be in the treble clef. This symbol shows up in the score with an X attached to a stem.

Step 4

Snare drums are the focus of any drum set.

Playing the snare drum is straightforward. It displays in the score with a regular music note on the line where the B would be in the treble clef. Simply play the snare with the rhythm given in the music.

Step 5

The bass drum is an important part of the drum set.

Playing the bass drum requires the use of a pedal. The right foot plays the bass drum. The symbol for the bass drum is on the bottom space of the staff where the note F is in the treble clef. The bass drum is an important part of the drum set as it keeps the beat.


Sometimes when there is more than one drum or cymbal, a second marking appears. It will appear in the score below the original note. With cymbals, it is indicated one-fourth below, and the bass drum it is one-third below the original note.


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