on jazz drumming

How To Read Drum Music

by Tim Lake

In order to use the jazz drumming resources on this site you need to able to read drum music and understand drum notation. Here is a rough guide to reading drum music.

We are going to assume you are playing a standard jazz drum kit - sometimes called a "bop kit". This means you will have a bass drum, a snare drum, a rack tom, a floor tom, a pair of hi-hats, a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal. Much like this:

standard jazz drum kit

All most all western music is written on a set of lines, called a stave, like this:

drum stave, drum notation

Typically the two vertical think lines you see at the left edge of the stave show that it’s for drum kit (or more correctly un-pitched instruments). The 4/4 tells us there are four quarter notes to each bar.

The basic principle of the stave is that low sounds go at the bottom and high sounds go at the top. So we will find the bass drum here:

bass drum on the stave

And the cymbals here:

cymbals on the stave

When I write cymbal parts, I write the ride cymbal on the top line, and the hi-hat above the top line, as in the picture above. However many other people score them both on the same line and indicate in writing whether it is the hi-hat or ride cymbal.

The snare drum sits in the middle of the stave:

snare drum on the stave

And the toms come above and below the snare. High tom, then floor tom:

tom toms on the stave

If we score each part of the kit like this, you can see the progression from low sounds to high sounds and back again. Try playing it on the kit.

from low to high on the drum kit

However there is one exception! The hi-hat can be played with the hands as well as the foot. To show when we mean the hi-hat is played with the foot, we actually put it at the bottom of the stave, close to the bass drum part.

hi-hat foot on the stave

There are many other technical features of reading drum music, but the most important one is the accent. An accent means the note should be played louder than the surrounding notes. It is marked by an arrow above the note.

accents on the snare drum

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