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How To Read Drum Sheet Music

Updated on June 9, 2009

Introduction To Reading Drum Notation

Do you want to learn how to Read Drum Music?

Learning to play drum beats and fill-ins is vital to being a good drummer but learning how to read drum sheet music is not only good for increasing your grey matter it will also help you to learn faster and help you become a better drummer and musician. You will also find that many of your favorite drummers also read very well, which is one of the untold secrets to their drum success.

This tutorial will teach you the basics of learning to read drumnotation and once mastered you’ll find that it is actually much easier than you may have first thought.

Stave or Staff?

The best way to start to learn how to read drum music is to start by learning the basic drum symbols that you will come across when reading drum tabs.

Before we even look at any drum symbols let us take a look at how music in general is written down. All western music uses the same musical system that has been developed over hundreds of years. Yes I’m afraid you’re stuck with a system created by our fore fathers! Anyway as I was saying drum music is written down on what is called a FIVE LINE STAVE (also referred to as a staff – confused yet!?). Symbols that represent different elements of the drums are written either on a line or in a space of the music.

Below is an example of what the musical stave looks like, the vertical lines are called bar lines and help to divide the music into equal beats. The space between the lines is called a bar; this is where you read the drum music.


How To Read the Hi-Hats

Next thing is to start writing and reading some musical symbols on the five line stave. In this lesson I will show you just the first few elements of the drum kit to help get you started. You can get the full free lesson at my website where you will learn how to read drum sheet music in its entirety, if you want the full lesson click the link at the bottom of this Hub.

The hi-hats sit above the music stave and it’s made up of a symbol that is a cross with a stem. You might be wondering why it uses a cross and not a dot like in most music. The reason is very simple because the hi-hat is a fixed pitch it is considered untuned and therefore receives a cross and not a dot.

The hi-hats produce a number of different sounds and thus requires different symbols to indicate how the hats should be played and struck. We will look at just two of those symbols here.

Hi-Hat Closed

Foot pedal is pressed down so that the hi-hats are tight together
Foot pedal is pressed down so that the hi-hats are tight together

Hi Hat Open

Foot pedal is raised to allow the cymbals to slush together.  To indicate that the hats are to be played open a circle is used above the note.  When you are required to close the hats again a small cross is used.
Foot pedal is raised to allow the cymbals to slush together. To indicate that the hats are to be played open a circle is used above the note. When you are required to close the hats again a small cross is used.

Snare Drum

Because the snare drum can be tuned a dot is used rather than a cross. The drum is tuned by tension rods which adjusts the tension of the skin thus changing the pitch of the drum. Ok info you didn’t need to know at this stage but I am sure you’ll be able to stick with my waffling!!

The snare drum is an important part of the drum kit and is part of almost every beat and fill you will play. The snare drum is read in the space towards the top of the stave.

Snare Drum

The Bass Drum

The bass drum is another important part of any drum beat and is read at the bottom of the stave.

The Bass Drum

How to read all the drum sheet music parts together at the same time

When reading drum music you will find that sometimes more than one drum is struck at the same time. When this occurs the symbols are written on top of one another. See the example below to get an idea of how a full drum beat looks when written out.

Don’t worry if there are a few elements that look unfamiliar at this stage just focus on learning where the snare drum is or where the hi-hats are etc.

Drum beat with all three drum elements

How to make the most of reading drum music

Learning to how to read drum music will really help you to learn and develop far faster than if you didn’t. Reading drum notation will help you to think quickly and even enable you to play with a more relaxed feel as you gain confidence.

I think the biggest advantage you will notice is that you will be able to quickly learn and try out different drum grooves which will expand your library of beats.

Try to grab as many ‘real’ music tabs as you possibly can and see how much you can work out. You will surprise yourself how easily you can teach yourself drum music and how many new ideas you’ll be able to pick up just by being able to read music.

The main thing is enjoy what you are doing and playing, that is how you'll really develop.

If you liked this lesson ( and I know you did :) ) why not why visit my website where you can get the full lesson completely free. It goes into greater detail about how to read drum music for a full five piece drum kit with cymbals; you’ll find great advice and audio examples to help you out too. There is even a free section containing lots of drum beats for you to test your reading skills, so check out How to read drum sheet music for free today!

Apologies for the shameless plug :)




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    • profile image

      fayid 5 years ago

      its so helpful 4 us..but we want more lesson.

    • profile image

      ARYAN 5 years ago

      its not helpful to me

    • profile image

      5 years ago

      Its rly very very very very helpful for new coming drummer.Tnx.

    • profile image

      yengdrums 5 years ago

      a nice lesson i want to lear more about this

    • profile image

      me 5 years ago


    • profile image

      hello 5 years ago

      please i want to learn how to sign,anybody

    • profile image

      Dre 5 years ago

      i didn't get d full lesson, types of strokes, drums line thing like that

    • profile image

      Lexi 6 years ago

      This helped some, but I didn't really see what I was looking for. :/

    • profile image

      Syria 6 years ago

      Sort of helped.

    • profile image

      TONYKELLY LUSHEN 6 years ago


    • dansdrumlessons profile image

      dansdrumlessons 6 years ago from Felixstowe

      Great info for beginner drummers or anyone wishing to learn -

    • profile image

      Hannah 6 years ago


    • profile image

      korry 7 years ago

      i used to have drums but then i could not play them so i sold them now my neighbor has drums so i used this site to learn how to play

    • cgaybba profile image

      cgaybba 7 years ago

      I'm an alright guitarist and just recently started to gain interest in playing the drums. I normally play on my step dad's drums. Thanks for this article.

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      dan 7 years ago

      i started drums in 1879 when i was 49

    • profile image

      mariabrunita87 7 years ago

      I really love play drums i have recently got my drum kit and i am also using "Notes-Helper" at to improve my tempo problems.

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      Baileybear 7 years ago

      nice hub - I've played piano for years, but had some tuition in playing drums, which I enjoyed

    • profile image

      jacob rhoda 7 years ago

      my dad bout me a drum set 2 years ago. i listen to my radio well i play i i,m still learning

    • profile image

      Learn Master Drums 8 years ago

    • nicksstuff profile image

      nicksstuff 8 years ago from Going for a swim in the ocean.

      Good one man. Thanks for showing. Between that and the articles I've found on the net for guitar I think I am starting to understand how music is written out. Lot's more to learn though - just give me another 20 years or so! Thanks for the hub.

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      loaf539 8 years ago

      dis weally hewlpd me out