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Real music transcriptions for drummers

How to Read Drum Music

1. Counting the Beat

The beat is the foundation of music. It is a drummers job to 'keep the beat' when playing music. When a drummer calls out "1 2 3 4!" at the start of a song he is counting the beat for the other musicians to follow. The beat is the underlying 'pulse' of the music- it should not be confused with the rhythms that we play on the drums. To feel the beat of a piece of music try tapping your foot while you listen to a song you like- most people will naturally tap or clap to the beat of the music

2. The Staff

Drum music is written on horizontal lines and spaces known as a Stave or Staff.


3. Notes and Rests

The sounds of the drums and cymbals are represented in written music by musical notes. The spaces between the sounds we make on the drums are represented by rests.


4. Bar Lines

The vertical lines in drum music are called bar lines they divide the written music into shorter sections or measures. This helps us to keep track of where we are in the music and makes it easier to read.


5. Time Signatures

The Time Signature is a pair of numbers written as a fraction at the beginning of the bar. It tells us how many beats in the following bar and what note value (see below) is worth one beat. Now we can count the beat as we play drums. The most common time signature is 4/4.


6. Different Time Signatures

There are many different types of time signatures. Below is an example of the time signature: 3/4. This tells us there are 3 quarter note beats in one bar of the music.


7. Note Values

The table below shows us what some of the different notes and rests look like- some are hollow, some are solid, some have stalks, some have tails. Learn to recognise the different notes, remember their names and how many beats or counts they last for.

NoteRestNamesValue in 4/4 music
(Semi Breve)
4 beats or counts
2 beats or counts
1 beat or count
1/2 a beat or count
(Semi Quaver)
1/4 of a beat or count

8. Notes of a 4/4 bar

We can use different types of notes to divide the beat up and create different rhythms. Look at the 3 bars of 4/4 music below- all three have the same beat but by using different types of notes we can begin to create different rhythms.

9. Creating Rhythms

On each of the beats of the bar below there are different note values. The different types of notes will sound faster or slower when played next to each other over the even beat of the bar. This is how we can represent rhythms in written music.

On the 1st beat is a Quarter note- this note lasts for one beat.

On the 2nd beat are 2 Eighth notes, they last for half a beat so they will sound twice as fast as the Quarter note.

On the 3rd beat are 4 Sixteenth notes- they will sound twice as fast as the Eighth notes.

On the final beat we return to a single Quarter note.

Although the notes change speed because of the different values, the beat remains steady and even: 1, 2, 3, 4.


10. Different Drums

In written drum music the different lines and spaces of the stave tell us which drum or cymbal to play. If a note is on the top line it tells us to play a different drum than if it is on the bottom line. Below is an example of the positions of the different drums and cymbals on a stave. Some composers will use slight variations. Generally speaking the lower or higher on the stave the note is then the lower or higher on the drum kit it is too- bass drum on the bottom line, crash cymbal at the top etc.




11. Parts of the Drum Set

Below is a diagram of a standard 5 piece drum set with the generally accepted names of the different drums and cymbals. The 'High Tom' 'Middle Tom' and 'Floor Tom' are sometimes also referred to as 'Tom 1', 'Tom 2' and 'Tom 3' respectively. The bass drum is also sometimes called the 'Kick Drum'.

parts of the drums

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