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.
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:
Rests Require Attention
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.
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.
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.