How to read drum set music

Drums 101: How to read drum set music

It can be frightening and confusing when you are new to reading drum sheets. It includes all the interpreting, absorbing, and coordinating the information contained in drum set music.

To help you jump start playing drums and reading drum notation symbols, here is a quick guide on how to read drum set music.

This “hot to read drum set music” guide consists of drum notation symbols, anchors, isolation, changes, and more. It also includes tips and tricks on easy reading drum sheet music.

However, this article is only a glimpse of a broader knowledge; it helps beginners start with the basic information they need to know.

How to read drum set music

Reading drum set music is pretty easy with a key. A key identifies which cymbal or drum matches up with the note on the musical staff.

With the piano, violin, or any other tonal instruments, the notes on the musical staff are coordinated to tones or notes on the instrument. The drums do not work like this. The notes on the musical staff corresponds with a cymbal or a drum.

Learning how to read drum set music is memorizing the placement of each note on the key. If you are able to do this, you will be able to read drum set music.

The drum set music includes a special sign called the repeat sign. This means that you have to go back to the previous repeat sign in the music. If there is no another repeat sign, you begin at the start of the music.

Reading drum set music takes hard work, patience, and time to be able to get used to it and learn it.

Counting the beat

The foundation of music is the beat. For drummers, the beat should be kept when playing music. The drummer’s count of “1 2 3 4” at the beginning of the song is also the beat for the other drummers to follow.

The beat is the essential pulse of the music and should not be confused with the rhythm. The beat of a song is felt when you try to tap your foot while listening to a song you like.

Knowing the staff

The staff or stave is a group of horizontal lines and spaces where the drum music is written.

The notes and rests

The musical notes serve as the written music which represent the sounds of drums and cymbals, while the rests represent the spaces between the sounds of the drums.

The bar lines

The written music needs to be divided into shorter sections or measures to keep it neat and easy to read. The bar lines serve as the division. They are the vertical lines in drum music.

Note values

There are different notes and rests which appear to be hollow, solid, with tails, or with stalks. Memorize the appearance of each and remember their names.

Identifying the parts of the drum set

Learning how to read drum set music also includes the ability to identify the parts of the drum set. The drum set parts include the ride cymbal, crash cymbal, high tom tom, middle tom tom, floor tom tom, bass drum, snare drum, etc.

Notes of the different drums

Each drum or cymbal is represented in different lines and spaces of the stave. If the note is on the top line, it means a different drum should be played; the same goes if the note is on the bottom line.

Practice reading

Now that you have learned the basics of drum set music reading, you can apply what you have learned. Listen to Jimmy Eat World’s “My Best Theory”. Try to play it with approximately 120 beats per minute.

Begin with 60 beats per minute and slowly increase your speed until you can play with the song. Then, play the bass drum similar to the song and feel how good it is to play the song.


There are more things that you need to know about how to read drum set music. You need to become familiar with and learn the different notes and rests, etc.

Find more resources on how to read drum set music, try to apply what you have learned, and keep on practicing. Then, you’re on way to great drum skills.