How to Read Drum Music: 4 Simple Techniques

4 simple techniques for how to read drum music:

Drummers, there are 2 main reasons to learn to read:

1) The ability to read drum sheet music opens up so many doors, enables you to understand what you are playing on a deeper level and saves your ears some serious listening work!

2) Reading drum music is easy! There are only a few different positionings on the stave and they all make logical sense, as we’ll see in a moment. All you really need to read is rhythm!

How to read drum music: 4 simple techniques

1) Attach words to music

Attaching words to music is one of the most reputable and effective ways of learning to read and to play in time.

We naturally speak rhythmically and never question it, so learning to play in and read in the same was as we learn language makes perfect sense.

It’s simple: When there’s one blob, like this: Image result for crotchet note, you have a ‘tea’.

When there are two, joined together with a horizontal line, Image result for quaver note

that’s ‘coffee’. When you say the word ‘coffee’, you fit two syllables into the same space as you would fit one with ‘tea’, and this works the same in notation.

If there are 4 joined together, with 2 horizontal lines, Image result for semi quaver note

you have a Coca Cola! This is four syllables fitting into one beat.

This really is enough info to get you started reading music! Oh, and if you see a squiggly vertical line, it means “Shh.”

2) Know your bottom blobs from your middle blobs

What’s the lowest pitched drum?

You got it – the Bass Drum.

So guess what it means when your blob is between the bottom two lines?

You got it!

Which drum rests right near the middle of you?

You got it – The Snare Drum! Guess which drum is written on the stave just above the middle line? 🙂

Your hi tom is between the top two lines, your mid tom is on the line underneath, and your floor tom is underneath the middle line.

3) Crash, Ride and Hi-Hats

Again, this varies according to different notation keys, but usually the hi-hat is placed on top of the stave. This is easy to remember, because you wear a hat on top of your head.

Also, if it’s open it has an O above it! :O 😀 … if it’s closed, it has a cross above it (think “WE ARE NOT OPEN!”).

The crash is the biggest looking one because it’s above the stave AND has a line through it, so that makes sense as it’s the loudest cymbal.

The ride is on the line (normally). Imagine yourself on a pushbike, riding along the line…

4) Flams and Accents in Drum Music

A flam’s a quiet, mini note, followed immediately by a full note, signified by a small note preceding a full sized one.

Accents are louder than the rest of the notes you hear, so the fact that they have a beak-like triangle above or underneath them also makes sense. If you think of loud, quacking ducks.

There are other things to learn as you progress, like rolls and how they’re notated, buzz rolls and more tricks. But what’s here is plenty to get you started on your drumming adventures!

So, what are you waiting for?

Head to for some free drum transcriptions, and rock on!

Roz is a music teacher and our go-to person for anything music theory! When she’s not teaching or writing for Zing, Roz writes and plays in alternative/ psyche /art rock band The Roz Bruce Infusion.

Leave a Comment