read drum sheet music

How to Read Drum Sheet Music

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Many people are surprised to learn that drummers use sheet music. In fact, drummers have their own language. Drum notation is a form of sheet music specifically for percussion musicians. Specific drum symbols are used to communicate what part of the drum set to play and when to play it. Once you are proficient with drum notation, you will be able to play a beat without ever having heard it before.

How is Drum Notation Different?

If you are familiar with traditional sheet music, you may be wondering how drum notation is different. With sheet music, the symbols on the staff communicate different notes. In drum notation, different symbols represent the different parts of the drum set:

  • Hi-hat
  • Bass drum
  • Snare
  • Ride cymbal
  • Tom-tom drum

Drum notation is especially helpful for those learning how to play the drums because it can guide their coordination on the drum set. Just like with traditional sheet music, the notes are on the staff. They are separated by vertical bar lines and the spaces between the lines are called a measure. Different measures have different notes and counts. Measures are read the same way as with traditional sheet music. OnlineDrummer has a useful drum notation guide for anyone learning to read drum notation.

Tips for Reading Drum Notation

Just like reading a book, drum notation reads from left to right. Here are the important tips to remember when learning to read drum notation.

  • Notes are positioned on the staff depending on which part of the drum set should be played.
  • Drums are depicted with dots and cymbals are notated with an "x." The stems that are attached to each communicate how to count the beat. 
  • A time signature is a set of two numbers. The top lets us know how many beats within one measure and the bottom tells what type of note gets the beat. 
  • Repeat sign indicate that you should repeat the pattern, but drum notation has several types of repeats.
  • Drum notation symbols are used to dictate the drum techniques for a measure (marcato, ghost note, flam drum, accent drum, etc).
  • Cymbals have their own drum notations dictating which technique should be used.

Steps for Learning Drum Notation

Break Lessons into Manageable Parts. Learning new languages can be intimidating. Break lessons down into parts that are easier to manage and avoid overwhelm.

Be Patient with Yourself. It takes new drummers some time to coordinate their limbs and feel comfortable with the different parts of the drum set. 

Practice Regularly. As with learning any new skill, the number of hours invested into practice is directly proportional to the outcome. 

Use a Metronome. A metronome will help you to locate the beat and keep time. Using a metronome while practicing can improve tempo control.

Now that you understand drum notation, it is time to buy some drum sheet music and get started. 

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