Which Drum Music Notation Software Should I Try Out
After a lot of experimentation, Id personally recommend you get a free trial of Guitar Pro.
As youll probably have guessed, Guitar Pro doesnt just do drum music, but its by far the simplest software Ive ever used for drum notation.
Its super easy to pick up and youll be expressing your creativity in no time.
So, without further ado, lets learn to read drum music notation!
Do You Need To Read Music To Play Drums
No, you dont need to read music to play a drum set. There are many self-taught drummers out there who are doing quite well. However, it takes them years of practice and listening to music to succeed by themselves.
If you want to perfect your drumming skills in a realistic time span, you should learn how to read music. Take as many drum lessons as possible.
What Should You Do First When A Chart Is Handed To You
- Identify the style. Ask questions if it is not clear.
- Make sure you know when to play and when not to play.
- Scan the chart for road map symbols,
- Look for any edits made to the arrangement and not notated
- Identify the dynamics and make notes of any clarifications throughout the session.
- Locate the ensemble or section figures, and begin to think about how to approach them.
- Be ready to make notes on the chart as the arrangement changes or if something is unclear.
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Drum Key Note Placement
You should read the drum notation from left to right. The notes can either be below or above the staff.
The placement of notes on the staff is dependent on the drum part you are playing at the moment. That is why, from our illustration above, the kick drum is in a different position from the ride cymbal or snare.
On the staff, dots signify drums while x signifies cymbals.
The height of a note on the staff is similar to its location on a drum set. For instance, the bass drum notes are at the bottom, its usual place in a drum set.
How To Read Drum Notation
Like the English language, drum notation is read from left to right. The staff is made up of five lines and four spaces, but notes can be positioned above or below the staff as well. Notes are placed in the staff based on which part of the drum set should be played at any given time. Notice below that the bass drum is in a different position on the staff than the snare or ride cymbal.
Drums are notated by dots, while cymbals are notated with an x. These symbols typically have stems attached to them, which help explain how to count the beat that is shown.
Reading drum notation
There are several symbols musicians should know when starting to read drum notation, especially if theyre just starting off with a four- or five-piece drum set.
Reading the music staff for drums
Music is often divided up into even groups of space. We use measures in music to organize the rhythms of the song into these repeated groupings to make it easier to count through a song. To communicate what grouping we should count, we use whats called a time signature.
Reading time signatures
A time signature contains two numbers displayed as a fraction. The top number tells you how many beats to count within one measure, and the bottom number tells you what type of note gets the beat . Think of the time signature as ruler. Youre measuring time, or more accurately, the space between the notes that youre playing.
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Playing & Reading The Bass Drum
The bass drum is played with the right foot on the bass drum pedal. Here is how four strokes are displayed on drum sheet music.
Like the snare drum, this notation shows a simple note. However, the position is in the bottom space of the measure. That is what indicates this note is to be played with on the bass drum.>
Some drum sets include two bass drums or double pedals that allow for both feet to operate the same bass drum. In either case, drum notation has a way of indicating a note that is to be played with the left foot on a second bass drum pedal.
As you can see, this second bass drum cymbal is on an imaginary line below the measure. It may seem a little confusion, but dont worry this is very rarely seen in beginner to intermediate drum lesson material. By the time you need to use it reading most drum sheet music will be second nature to you.
Drum Notation Is Different From Other Sheet Music
Before getting to the basics, its important for you to understand that drumming has its own set of notes. While all melodic instruments have notes, scales, sharps, and flats, drum music sheets are completely different.
The good thing is that drum notation is arguably easier to read than melodic notation. In a music sheet for drums, you dont need to worry about key signatures or accidentals. If you dont know what those are, dont worry about it.
You just need to know about subdivisions and drum note placements, which is what Im going to explain as you read on.
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Mixing It Up A Little
Now lets change it around a little. Take a look at the next beat in this video , were simply moving the bass drum from the 3rd beat one eighth note forward.
This kick drum hit occurs exactly at the same time as our hi-hat hit in between the 3rd and 4th beat.
One little change to our bar has made all the difference. Feel free to try out different arrangements yourself. You can have snare drum, bass drum, and hi-hat hits all at once if you want.
I recommend that you start slow when doing this. This video is a great example, as it starts at 60 beats per minute, exactly one beat per second.
Once you increase the speed, these drum beats can get very cool.
I initially thought Whats the point of sheet music for drummers when I started to play drums. After a few drum lessons, I really started to see the difference.
Learning a basic rock beat is easy for drums, but its very easy to plateau with your learning development on drums.
One of my best and most important pieces of drum tuition was Dom Famularos drum tuition book Its your move. I would have never been able to even read the instruction if I didnt know how to read drum sheet music.
Learning drum notation does the following:
Starting It All Off With The Crotchet
The easiest note value to get the hang of is the crotchet.
Quite simply, a crotchet represents one beat of music.
When a drummer shouts at the start of a song 1, 2, 3, 4!, they are paying homage to the humble crotchet.
All they are doing is counting out 4 crotchets to kick the song off , setting the speed at which the band will play.
Have a look at some crotchets in action with our first drum beat example laid out in sheet music.
Heres how it sounds as youre having a look at the music.
HELPFUL TO KNOW: In all the audio clips in this guide, there is a count-in of 4 clicks. After that, the drum beat repeats four times, which makes it easier to press play and have a look at the music at the same time.
If youre reading this on mobile, choose the listen in browser option when listening to the beats to make it easier to follow along with the article.
You see how every note has that long stick either pointing up or down?
That long stick means the note is a crotchet!
Anytime you see that golf club stick poking up or down anywhere, think crotchet.
A bit further on down the tracks, well look at ways you can add decorations to the golf sticks to change the value of the notes, but thats not important right now.
In the example above, Ive written a bass drum crotchet, followed by a snare drum crotchet, followed by another bass drum crotchet, followed by a snare drum crotchet.
In fact, this pattern is the foundation behind many of the different drum grooves that we play.
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The Key To Reading Drum Music
In order to unlock the super dark secrets of reading drum music , youre going to need a key. And that key is knowing which drum or cymbal corresponds to which note on the musical staff.
With a tonal instrument like a piano or violin, the notes on the musical staff are linked to notes or tones on the instrument. But drums are different. Each note on the musical staff is associated with a drum or a cymbal.
The key that we use at LearnDrumsNow is similar to the key used by other drum set books and publications. If you memorize the position of the notes on the following key, you will be able read any drum music youll see:Now lets apply the key to play a drum beat. But before we start, we need to learn a new sign on the musical staff: the repeat sign. When you see a repeat sign, go back to the previous repeat sign in the music or, if there is not another repeat sign, start at the beginning of the music.
Have a seat behind your practice drum set. Youre going to play a series of drum beats that youve played before, only this time youre going to be reading the music to play them. Lets start by playing quarter notes on the bass drum. Notice that the bass drum is always in the same space of the musical staff .Follow the steps below which are similar to the steps you followed in Your First Drum Beat to read and play the music above:
How To Read Drum Music
Many people who want to learn how to read drum music get put off by the fact that drum notation can look quite complex at first.
However, its actually pretty simple to grasp because there are only 2 main things you need to be able to work out from the notation:
1. Which drum to play
2. When to play it
Which Drum To Play
Obviously you dont need to be able to read pitch when playing drums, but you do need to know which drum to play. In drum notation each individual line/space corresponds to a different drum. The standard key is shown below:
When To Play It
Drum notation uses all of the same ingredients as standard notation so, as long as you know how to read sheet music, you have all of the skills you need to read drum music.
Some Drum Music Examples
Obviously we are going to want to play more than just a single hi hat at any one time. Lets add a kick drum in. Here you will see that a quarter note kick drum is to be played on the 1st and 3rd beats of the bar. The eighth note hi hat pattern is carrying on as before.
Adding In the Magic!
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How Do You Count And Play The Groove Beats
- The hi-hat
The hi-hat notation is in the eighth notes. Therefore, you shall use a similar formula to count and play as from our previous discussion.
The groove shall look as follows:
- The snare drum
On this bar, you play the snare twice, one time on count two and the other on count 4.
- The bass drum
To play a bass drum, you need to hit the kick pedal on counts 1, 3, and the and.
Tips To Start Reading Drum Music
When reading music, its vital to take it slowly. The slower you play, the easier it is to read notation. Once you get accustomed to the parts youre reading, then you can play it a little faster.
2. Count Out Loud
Counting out loud is one of the best ways to make sure youre playing the notes properly and waiting long enough before playing the next note. Sometimes it helps to even write the counting above the notes on the sheet music.
3. Practice Regularly
If reading music becomes part of your regular practice routine, your reading abilities will improve drastically over time. The more you read, the better youll get at it.
4. Play to Songs
Find full songs that have been transcribed and play along to them while following the sheet music. Its a fun way of reading drum notation.
5. Write Things Out
Find some music notation software and try to write drum parts out yourself. Its a great way of figuring out how things are written.
6. Teach Someone Else to Read
Teaching is the best way to learn something. By teaching someone else to read sheet music, youll get a more firm grasp on it yourself.
7. Have Fun!
Realize that reading drum sheet music isnt a chore. Its a useful tool to have that will get you very far in your musical journey. Have fun while reading and always seek to find some new materials to learn from.
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How To Read Drum Score
Now you know what makes up a drum score, lets get into the meat.
There are 2 main parts to a drum score. Youve read about them in the sections above:
First, youll have to interpret the timing of the drum score.
To do this, youll look at the time signature. Remember this?:
See the 2 numbers?
- The top number refers to the number of beats youll be counting and,
- the bottom number tells you the time value of each beat
The example above is the most common time signature in drumming 4/4. . In 4/4 time, it simply means you count 4 beats and each beat is a quarter note.
It can take some time to be able to immediately tell the timing of a music when you first hear it.
Hence, knowing how to interpret the time signature on a drum score will make things easier for you.
Heres a quick video introduction to timing in drum music and time signatures:
To build up your familiarity with timing and your ability to count musically, you can refer to this book for chord exercises.
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Playing & Reading The Tom Toms
Playing the toms is probably the most difficult part of drum notation to sight read. However, once you understand the three simple symbols, you will be well on your way to developing this important ability. The smallest tom is indicated with this symbol.
All the tom-toms are to be played with a drumstick hitting the center of the drumhead. This produces the clearest tone from the drum, and with practice, will ensure you dont hit the rim of the drum.
The second tom is marked with the same note, but in the second gap.
And finally, the last tom is indicated with a note in the third gap.
Remember, the snare is on the middle line, and then ALL toms are in gaps between lines. This is what makes it easier to differentiate between playing the snare or toms. Keep that in mind when playing fills, and you will have a much easier time sight reading.
Note: Some drum sets have more than three toms. Unfortunately, standard drum notation does not have symbols for these additional drums. However, you can feel free to be creative with most tom tom patterns, and break them up over whatever drums you want. Perhaps for one fill you can use the symbols to indicate toms one, two, and three. Then, for a second fill use them to indicate toms one, three, and five .
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