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Drum Sheet Music (Reading and Writing)

Your Guide to Drum Notation Essentials

Drum sheet music notation is the key to translating beats into something readable. Are you ready to unlock its secrets? Let’s dive right in!

Welcome to your Guide to Drum Notation Essentials.


Staff and Clefs

The ABCs of Music Notation

Like common notation, drum notation is organized on a set of five horizontal lines (and four spaces), called staff, that’s divided into segments that we call bars. Each bar is a unit containing the same number of beats and they allow you to divide the song into small “building blocks”.

And for more parallels with other instruments, drum notation is also arranged from low to high pitch. On the lower lines and spaces, you’ll find the deeper sounds, like the bass drum and the floor tom.

In the middle of the staff, the snare and toms. Finally, up top, the cymbals, with their high-pitched clang.


Drum Sheet Music - Bar and Clef
The bar (O) and the drum clef ([])
The music in the image above is drum-exclusive, marked by those two vertical boxes on the left: the drum clef. It’s kinda like the treble and bass clefs, found in melodic instrument notation, but just for the drummers.

Decoding the Symbols

In the world of drum sheet music, each drum and cymbal has its own symbol. Think of it as mastering a new alphabet. To kick things off, start with the basics: learn the symbols, and practice until you can read them comfortably and groove with the rhythm.

In this image you can see our basic guide of drum notation. Below, you can listen to it too:

Drum notation guide by My Sheet Music Transcriptions



Rests Require Attention

Rests guide: whole rest, half rest, quarter rest, eighth rest, sixteenth rest

In sheet music, you’ll encounter rests such as half rests, quarter rests, and eighth rests. It’s crucial not to play during rests: silence is an integral element of the music.

You can find the main rest symbols in the image below:

  • Whole rest: 4 counts
  • Half rest: 2 counts
  • Quarter rest: 1 count
  • Eighth rest: 1/2 count
  • Sixteenth rest: 1/4 count


Mastering Time Signatures

The numbers spotted at the start of the sheet are the time signatures. The top number is the key player, telling you how many beats groove in each bar.

The bottom number? That’s your beat’s value indicator. The go-to values are 4 for quarter notes, 8 for eighth notes, and 2 for half notes.

Exemple of time signature 4/4 by My Sheet Music Transcriptions
4/4 time signature

4/4 time signature represents four quarter note beats in each mesure. You can also call 4/4 time signatures “common time” – literally because it represents 90% of the tunes we listen to!

Deeper into Sheet Music Symbols

In the sheet, you’ll encounter several symbols that go beyond representing notes. Here are the key ones:

  • Sticking: These indicate which notes to play with your right (R) or left (L) hand, often appearing above or below the staff.
  • Hi-Hats Open/Closed: When you spot an ‘O’ symbol above the hi-hat, lift your toes to open it. A ‘+’ indicates closing the hi-hat.
  • Articulation: Accented notes should be played louder. Foot accents appear below the staff, while hand accents are above. The most common sign is a wedge with a leftward opening (>).
  • Dynamics, for bringing life into music. Ranging from soft whispers (pp) to powerful sounds (ff), they usually include crescendos and decrescendos.
  • Form Symbols: Don’t forget to keep an eye out for repetition dots, first and second endings, and codas.


Drum notation: open hi-hat by My Sheet Music Transcriptions
Open hi-hat notation


Drum notation: foot accent by My Sheet Music Transcriptions
Foot accent notation

Build your Own Groove

Now that you’ve grasped the essentials, it’s time to be a real drum player! Feel free to inject your personality into the rhythm: be the drummer, not just a drum machine.

And at My Sheet Music Transcriptions, we’re here to give you that little nudge. Turn your favorite grooves into reality, right on our website, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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