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Drum Set Notation #1 - Legend/Instrument Notation

As drummers we all have to learn how to notate grooves, fills and drum solos. So we have to learn how to read well. But none of us started playing drums so we could learn how to read music. So let's do this as quickly as possible!

Here's the plan.

Look at the first one, express its shape (x), its position (above the top line) and its name (hihat).

Now do all of them. Repeat this process at least once a day until you know them all by heart. 

If you do it like this it'll take you no more than 5 minutes a day for a week, and you'll never forget any of them.


Below is a 3D Drumming System Excerpt:

C13.2.1 Reading - Legend - Notation #1 Instruments

C13:                           Reading

Paragraph 2:            Legend

Section 1:                  Notation #1 Instruments



Let’s take a look at how the voices on the kit are notated, a.k.a. the legend. Each instrument has its own place in the staff. Here we divided them into four categories. 

1. The basic three used often in grooves: Hihat              Snare             Bass
2. The drums in front of you: Snare             Tom 1             Tom 2             Floor tom (or Tom 3)
3. The cymbals: Hihat              Ride                Crash 1          Crash 2
4. Other symbols: Rimclick        Hihat foot      LF bass           Cowbell



These may be notated slightly differently in other books but there are a few basic rules:

  1. The round noteheads are drums, the x’s are cymbals
  2. The notation of drums is from high to low according to pitch. In other words tom 1 is notated the highest, the bass drum(s) the lowest.
  3. The snare is in the center of our set and is notated in the center. Some prefer to notate it on the middle line instead of on top of the middle line. This might be more logical so who knows this might become the standard in the future.

The terminology might be awkward to some. You may have heard the “rimclick” be referred to as “cross stick” but this seems needlessly confusing as there is already something else being called cross sticking. On top of that, the sound it produces is a click, played on the rim of the snare so it’s a pretty accurate description.


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Bob Schillemans

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I’m a drummer / musician interested in getting the best out of people. 25+ years of teaching drums have made me pretty confident that I can help those who want to be helped.

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