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A Comprehensive Guide on How to Read Drum Music

gobuybeats | November 12, 2022
how to read drum music

Source: Pexels

For ages, music has been an integral part of human culture. One of the most common instruments used in music is the drum. Drums have been a part of music for centuries, and their popularity is only increasing. Many people enjoy playing drums, but only some know how to read drum music.

Drum music is in the form of drum notation. They are notated using note heads and stem on a five-line staff. Drum notation uses the same notes as regular music notation, but most people write drum music in a way that is specific to drums.

Fortunately, reading drum music is easier than it may seem. In this article, we will cover the basics of how to read drum music. By the end, you should better understand this vital skill.

The Basics of Drum Sheet Music

Drum notation is the written language of drumming. Just as regular notation communicates melodies and harmonies, drum notation also communicates rhythms. While anyone can write out a drum part using familiar notes on a staff, a standard set of symbols and conventions make drum parts more easily readable.

The Staff

Source: Wikipedia 

The first thing to know about drum notation is that people write it on a staff. A staff is a set of five horizontal lines that represent music pitches. In drum notation, each line or space on the staff corresponds to a different drum or percussion instrument.

Time Signature & Tempo

Source: Wikipedia

The time signature is a symbol at the beginning of a song that tells you how many beats are in each measure and what kind of note gets one beat. The top number of the time signature tells you how many beats are in each step, while the bottom number tells you what kind of note gets one beat.

Drum Clef

Source: Wikipedia 

The drum clef is a symbol on sheet music that tells the musician which notes to play on the drums. There are different drum clefs, but they all work the same way. The clef determines which lines and spaces on the staff correspond to the various drum pitches.

Repeat Signs

Source: Wikipedia

A Repeat sign tells the musician to play a section of music again. Depending on how many times the musician should play the section, there are different types of Repeat signs.

  • The standard repeat sign: This sign indicates that the drummer should repeat the section of music. You can use this at the beginning and end of a piece.
  • The one-bar repeat sign: It tells the musician to repeat a section of the music for a specified number of measures. A vertical line with two dots on each side (:|:) is placed at the beginning and end of the section to be repeated. You will see the number of times you should repeat the unit above the line. 
  • The two-bar repeat sign: It looks like this ||: It means “repeat the previous two bars.” When you see a two-bar repeat sign, it tells you to play the previous two bars again. So, if you’re playing a four-bar phrase and you see a two-bar repeat sign at the end of the second bar, you’ll play the first two bars again before moving on to the next two bars.


Source: Wikipedia

When reading drum music, you will see a few note types. The most common type of note is the quarter note, which looks like a large dot with a stem attached to it. A half note looks like a large dot without a stem, while a whole note looks like a large circle.


Source: Wikipedia

Rests in drum music can be very important in indicating the beat or rhythm of a piece; They also create silence and space in a piece. In most cases, a rest shows that the drummer should not play anything for the rest. However, there are some cases where you can play a rest as an actual note.

For example, in 4/4 time, a quarter rest would last for one-quarter of the measure. That is, it would last for one count in a measure that is made up of four quarter notes. In 6/8 time, a dotted quarter rest would stay for three eighth notes.

How to Read Drum Notes

Source: Wikipedia 

Source: Wikipedia 

Reading drum notes is one of the essential skills a drummer can possess. Let’s start by discussing the symbols of a drum notation:

Bass Drum

A square symbol usually represents the bass drum. It is the deepest-sounding drum in the set and is played with a beater.

Floor Tom

The floor tom is a cylindrical drum that is larger in diameter than a tom-tom. It is on the floor between the bass drum and the other toms. You can play this with a stick or mallet.

Tom 1 and Tom 2

Tom 1 and Tom 2 are smaller cylindrical drums mounted on a stand. They are typically played with sticks.

Snare Drum

The snare drum is a small, round, metal drum with gut or wire strings stretched across the bottom head. It is played with two sticks, one in each hand.

Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal is a large, metal cymbal played with a stick in one hand and held in the other. It produces a sustained sound.

Hi-hat Pedal

The hi-hat pedal is a foot pedal that raises and lowers a metal rod inside the hi-hat cymbal. This changes the pitch of the sound produced when the cymbals are struck.

Crash Cymbal

The crash symbol is a significant metal symbol played with a stick in one hand and held in the other. It produces a loud, crashing sound.

Tips on How to read Drum Musical 

When reading drum music, it is important to pay attention to the bar lines. This will help you track where you are in the song and what rhythms you need to play. Additionally, it is helpful to know which note corresponds with which drum. The following tips can help make reading drum music easier:

Know the Time Signature

Often, there will be a time signature at the beginning of the piece that tells you how many beats are in each measure and what type of note gets one beat. For instance, in 4/4 time, each measure has four quarter notes. Once you know the primary rhythms, it will be easier to follow the piece.

Understand Note Position on Staff

Another thing to remember is the position of the notes on the staff. It would be best if you played higher notes on the staff louder while you played the lower notes softer. This is especially important to remember when reading drum music, as the notes on the staff often correspond to specific drums on the set.

Familiarize Yourself With Symbols

Finally, knowing what each symbol on the staff means can be helpful. Common signs include notes (of course), rests (indicates a pause), slurs (suggests that you play two or more notes together), and beams (which connect multiple notes and indicate that you should play them evenly).

Final Thoughts

Now that you understand how to read drum music, it’s time to start practicing. Start by learning the primary rhythms and then work on mastering the different symbols. 

As with any other skill, practice makes perfect! In no time, you’ll be able to read drum music like a pro and impress your friends and family at your next jam session.

Written by gobuybeats


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