Learn How to Read Drum Set Music: Introduction

As a drum teacher, I emphasis the benefits of students learning to read drum music. It’s not difficult to pick up the basics and it can cut years off the learning curve (like being able to read books, right?). Just like any other musical instrument, drum music consists of rhythm, notation, musical staff, and in a sense, melody. For drummers, orchestration is the term used to represent playing different drums to create a melodic pattern.

Let’s start with the most primal of elements: The Beat

The Beat

The “beat” is something the drummer is supposed “to keep”, but while it’s difficult to define, it’s relatively easy to feel. It’s that pulse, that musical emphasis that you tap your toe to when you you’re enjoying a song. The “beat” is not to be confused with drum rhythms, as those are the patterns a drummer play over the beat.

The beat is consistent, evenly spaced pulses of the music. For clarity, we’ll use 4/4 Time Signature (no worries, we’ll get into this later), and when a song is playing, its your even toe-tapping or clapping in time to the music that represents “the beat”. When a drummer counts in a song and shouts, “1,2,3,4!!!!”, that’s the beat that the bandmembers join.  In this example, the “beat” is exactly the same rhythm, speed, and spacing as “1,2,3,4”.

Quick exercise: Turn on the favourite music source (Spotify, radio, whatever) and tap or clap along to the “beat”. Those, are “quarter notes” –those are the “1,2,3,4” pulse that most modern songs are based upon.

Quarter notes (the “1,2,3,4” pulse), when written, look like this:

Quarter Notes

The Rest

Just like those quarter notes above represent tapping a drum “to the beat”, the same can be said about NOT tapping the drum, or leaving a “Rest”. It’s the same pattern, the same duration, the same value, except you DON’T hit the drum on this beat.

So, in the example below, you would tap the drum on “1,2” then leave an evenly spaced rest for “3”, then hit for “4”.

Quarter Note Rest

Got it? Good.

More later. Happy Drumming.









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