Music Notes for Beginners in a Percussion Band

Playing a percussion instrument requires knowledge of certain symbols and notation that is not typical of other types of instruments. Learning these symbols early on in the process will make you more knowledgeable about your instrument, and make it easier for other members of the percussion band to work with you. A little knowledge and some terminology will go a long way towards making you an indispensable part of the percussion group.


Roll notation in percussion music occurs by a series of two or three bars that strike across the note stem. These are not to be confused with sixteenth and thirty-second notes. Those types of notes refer to a note value. Rolls and Tremolos indicate that the performer should create a steady rolling sound with the mallets. This symbol appears in music for bass drums, cymbals, high-hats and even barred instrument music.


Percussion notation itself is often different than regular music notation. The note heads of percussion music are often not filled in like they are in regular music. Cymbals and drums are usually marked with an X for the note head, in lieu of a filled-in note head. A hollow note head still indicates a half note, but the shape of the half note is generally more angular. Slash notation often occurs as well, which indicates that the percussionists should improvise a steady beat or play the previous measure several times in repetition.


The position of the notes also dictates what instrument plays. Most music will have a legend that describes what instrument to play by the location on the staff. In general, cymbals are the highest instruments, high-hats slightly below, followed by toms, snare drums and bass drum on the F space.


Cross-sticking notation uses a circle surrounding a small X as the note head. This technique requires the percussionist to play with two sticks in a specific manner. It involves using the left hand to hold a stick on the snare drum with one end while the other end hits the rim of the snare. Meanwhile, the right hand usually plays a steady cymbal beat to add to the rhythm.


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