How to Read Drum Notation – Part 1 – How to Read Notes

This is a stave.


A stave is where we write musical notes.

Here is a note.


Here is another note.


As you can see, notes can be written on different spaces or lines of the stave. The space or line the note is written on, tells us what note to play, or what drum/cymbal to hit.

Notes can be written a few different ways.

Here is a note with a stem.


Here is a note with a stem and a tale


Here are two notes with their tales connected to each other (a common way to neaten up tales)


Stems and tales affect how fast or long a note is but they don’t affect what the note is. We always look for the position of the note itself to know what note it is.

Here is a bass drum note. As you can see the note is in the bottom space. Bass drums are always written here


Here is a snare drum note. The snare drum is in the space second from the top. Snare drums are always written here.


Here are the notes for the tom toms. Tom 2 is unique as it is the only drum (in a basic drum kit) written on a line instead of a space.


Notes for cymbals look a little different. Instead of a black dot, they look more like an ‘X.’ There can be a lot of variations of cymbal notation. Most drumming books have a notation key at the start of the book, so always refer to that if you’re working out of a book.

Here is the most common type of cymbal notation that I come across.


In part 2 we will look at some basic drum beats and fills written out using this notation.