Drum Notes: Introduction to the Different Notations

drum notesDrum notes are the basic building blocks of any drum beats, be it the simplest ones or the highly complex ones, and form the backbone of the technical understanding or representation of these beats. It is very important to have good understanding of the different drum notes and also how these drum notes are represented in the sheet music to be able to play the different beats effectively. Here is a good introductory course about the drum set and the basic techniques which should work as the perfect starting point for our discussion about the drum notes.

The drum sheet music is a method used to represented music notes and beats on a piece of paper. The sheet music contains five lines and four spaces on which different symbols are used at different positions to represent the different kinds of notes which are played by a drummer. To read more about what drum sheet music is and a detailed discussion about the different drum notes, you can read this well-written article about the drum sheet music.

Here we are going to discuss the basic drum notes one by one and their notations on the drum sheet music.


The first notation we are going to discuss is for the Hi-hats. A simple ‘x’ symbol marked above the top line is used to denote a Hi-hat which is to be played with a drum stick only while keeping the Hi-hats closed. The left foot is used on the pedal to keep the Hi-hats closed. Another notation which is used for playing the Hi-hats is for playing the Hi-hats with the foot. An ‘x’ symbol below the last line denotes this Hi-hat.

Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal is a very basic element in a drum set and is widely used in most of the beginner and intermediate level rock beats. For denoting the ride cymbal, an imaginary line is assumed to be present above the top most line. The ride cymbals are represented by ‘x’ symbols on this imaginary line. So basically, ride cymbal is denoted by simple ‘x’ symbols just above the top most line.

Snare Drum

The snare drum is the most important part of a drum kit. A regular snare drum stroke in a drum music sheet is indicated by a simple note on the middle line. This notation is used for the general technique of playing the snare drum. A snare drum can also be played using cross-sticking. The snare drum using the cross-sticking technique is denoted by a circle ‘x’ symbol on the middle line. Here is a great beginners course about the basics of drumming which will help you learn the cross sticking technique along with some of the other most useful drumming techniques.

Bass Drum

The bass drum is played using the right foot on the bass drum pedal. Like the regular snare drum notation, the bass drum is also denoted by a simple note. But the placement of the note is different in this case. The note in this case is placed in the bottom most space. Some drum sets may include two bass drums and the other bass drum is generally played with the left foot. This second bass drum is denoted with a simple note placed on an imaginary line below the bottom most line.

Tom Toms

Most drum sets contain three tom toms and each of these has a different notation for them to be represented on the drum sheet music. The smallest tom or the hi tom is indicated by a simple note in the first or the top most space. The second tom or the mid tom is indicated by a simple note in the second space from the top. The third tom or the low tom is indicated by a simple note in the third space from the top. This is how all the toms are represented and differentiated from each other.

It must be remembered here that the notations for the snare drum and the tom toms, the smallest one in particular, can be quite confusing at times and hence should be carefully read. In case the drum set contains more than 3 toms, then no standard notations exist for these toms and the players can create their own notations in such cases.

To get more clarity about the concepts which have been discussed here, you can check out this amazing course about the basic techniques of drumming which will give a better understanding about the different notes and their notations. After learning the basic notes and their notations, it is very important to practice a few standard drum beats to get some experience of using these notations. Here is a great course which discusses some basic lessons in drumming which will provide you with enough material to practice well and become adept at using the different drum notes notations.