May 1

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SO EASY! HOW TO READ DRUM SHEET MUSIC in 2022

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Good morning, and thanks for visiting Midnightdrummer.com!

The internet is full of “free” drum tabs, song transcriptions, and free drum notes to download.

But if you haven't seen any sheet music before, you will probably ask yourself:  

How to read drum sheet music?

Correct?

This blog post will teach absolute beginner drummers on how to read drum sheet music, how it works and how to interpret all those crazy notes and signs.

And there's even more!

Yes, you can also download a FREE DRUM NOTES PDF file including easy drum beats for beginners to practice reading and playing the grooves at home.

Click here and join the mailing list: 

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EASY drum Grooves
for beginners!

Files Included

At the end of this blog post, you can even take a quiz and check what you've learned so far about drum sheet music. 

Sounds good?

Great! Here's what this article is about:

How to read drum sheet music (and why it is important)

The very 1st important and probably most important thing to keep in mind when reading drum sheet music is the so-called drum key.

Drum Notation Key

My basic drum key

The drum key should appear at the very beginning of any PDF, drum book or on a blog post like this.

WHY?

Without a drum key, the reader doesn't know where the instruments of a drum set (snare, kick drum, hi-hat, toms etc.) are notated by the author.

Thus, you wouldn't exactly know when to play which instrument of the drum kit.

In short:
The drum notation key explains all notes, rests and signs which are essential to interpret the given drum sheet music.

Easy!

Now, let me explain my own drum notation key.

My drum notation key

Let's have a closer look at my yellow drum notation key above.

As you can see, I am using a simple one showing the following instruments:

  • Bass drum: At the bottom of the notation system
  • Snare drum: Between 2nd & 3rd line
  • Hi-hat: On top of the system
  • Hi-hat-foot: At the bottom of the notation system
  • Hi-tom: On the very 1st line of the notation system
  • Mid-tom: Between 1st and 2nd line
  • Low-tom: Between 3rd and 4th line

Rests

There are also rest signs on my drum notation key.

From left to right:

  • Quarter Note Rest
  • Eighths note rest
  • Sixteenth note rest
  • Dotted eighths note Rest

What about other drum notation keys?

There are literally hundreds of different drum notation keys.

Why?

Because every single drummer has his or hers own way on how to write drum sheet music.

That's why it is crucial to study the drum notation key before starting with the 1st exercise in a drum book.

The more instruments are being used, the bigger the drum notation key becomes.

My basic drum notation key only shows a 5-piece drum kit including hi-hats, crash and ride cymbal like this:  

Drum Set Parts

5-piece drum set - image by AlLes

To make it even simpler, I only show the hi-hat (x) and not the ride cymbal, additionally.

Of course, this can lead to confusion, but it shouldn't with this little piece of information:

The “x” on top of my drum notation key should also be interpreted as the ride cymbal. Therefore, every single exercise should be practiced with a left and a right leading hand. 

You can find more information about this in the PDF which you find in the free download bundle.

How to read drumset music

To make it easier to understand on how to read drumset music, I created a few very simple exercises plus audio samples for you. 

Please have a look at the following 4 drum grooves:

Here are drum beats for beginners.

Example of drum beat notation

Exercise #1

Please compare exercise #1 with the drum notation key at the beginning of this blog post. 

As you can see, the bass drum and snare drum are being played one after another, starting with the bass drum.

If you play this on a drum kit, it should sound like this:  

At the very beginning of the measure, you may have noticed the 4/4 time signature – shown as a fraction.

The time signature indicates how many quarter notes (4) are being used in the measure.

A rhythm in 4/4 contains 4 quarter notes or 8 8th notes and so on.

Exercise #2

In Exercise #2 there are 2 bass drum notes followed by a snare drum and this it how it should sound like on your drumset: 

Exercise #3

In this exercise, we play 1 bass drum note at the beginning and 2 bass drum notes after the first snare drum.

It should sound like this:

Exercise #4

Exercise #4 is quite the same as no. 3. Only the bass drum notes are turned around.

Please listen here:

How to count?

Sometimes it can be very helpful to count while playing an exercise.

That's why I added the beats on top of the drum notes:

  • 1 + 2 + 3 + 4

This is the way how I count an 8th note beat, whereas I pronounce the “+” as “and”.

With this in mind, please have a look at the 4 exercises again.

Now you can see on which count each instrument is being played in the pertaining exercises.

As you can see, the snare drum is always noted on count “2” and on “4”.

Only the bass drum notes change from one exercise to the next.

So the very 1st thing needed, when applying this drum sheet music to the drum set, is to count evenly and hit the pertaining instrument at the correct count.

How to read notes for drums

Of course, there's more about reading drum sheet music than the exercises above.

In general, notes for drums have to be read from left to right. Just as if you were reading a book.

If you wonder what rests and note tails are, please read on here:

Rests and note tails

The following 2 exercises look quite different compared to exercises 1-4-

Right? 🙂

What's going on here?

Drum beats with off-beat hihat

Drum grooves with off-beat hi-hat notes

Please have a look at the hi-hat line at the very top of the system.

It starts with an eighth note rest sign on beat 1 followed by an 8th note on the “+”.

I notated the 8th note rest, because it is easier for the reader's eyes to notice that there is a pause at the beginning of the bar. 


Reading drum sheet music

Drum notes for songs

Easy drum songs sheet music

Easy drum notes

Basic drum sheet music

Drum sheets for beginners

If you just started your career as a drummer, you should begin smoothly with easy beginner's drum sheets. 

This will help to understand the basic idea of how drum sheet music looks like, how it works and how to read it while playing drums.

Again, I'd like to invite you to get the free download of my 55 easy drum grooves. All you need to do is join my mailing list and I will send you a link to the free download.

Click here to proceed.

Best drum sheet music site

Take the quiz

If you want to check your knowledge about all you've learned so far, please take the drum sheet music quiz:

FAQ

How do you read drum music?

One of the easiest songs to play on drums for most beginners is “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson. Although this song isn't very slow, the drum beat itself can be learned within a few hours of practicing drums. It consists of an 8th notes pattern on hi-hat, snare drum on count 2 and 4 and a bass drum on count 1 and 3.
Here, you can listen to a slowed down version of the Billy Jean drum beat:

Do drummers read sheet music?

A beginner drummer should learn the basics from different categories like drum rudiments, easy drum beats and drum-fills. Besides that, learning to play to a click-track or metronome builds a great rhythmic foundation.

How do you play sheet music on the drums?

The fastest way to learn a song on drums depends on which song a drummer wants to learn. Easy drum songs which consist of a simple bass drum- and snare drum patterns can be played within a few minutes of practice.
“We will rock you” by Queen is an example which anybody can play within minutes in their first drum lesson.

Keno Hellmann

Keno is a professional drummer & blogger from Hamburg, Germany.
In his career, he played drums for prominent artists like Elton John and popular German bands like Rosenstolz, Big Soul and others.
Since 2004 he's also teaching drums to students of all age-groups from beginners to advanced and semi-professional drummers.

He loves kitesurfing in Germany's North Sea & Egypt's Red Sea, cooking, and he is a big supporter of the HSV football team.

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