How to Read Percussion Sheet Music

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You can learn drumming by ear, but learning to read percussion sheet music will help you grow as a musician. Often, drumming requires you to play intricate rhythms on several drums at once. Percussion sheet music makes it easier for you to learn from other, more-experienced musicians and allows you to precisely write down the drum patterns that you use yourself.

Things You'll Need

  • Sheet music
  • Drums
  • Learn the meanings of the notes and rests. Sheet music divides notes by the amount of time they take. So a half note takes half as much time as a whole note, a quarter note takes half as much time as a half note and an eighth note takes half as much time as a quarter note. Rests work the same way. A half rest takes half as much time as a whole rest. Notes can go all the way to 32nd and even 64th notes, but generally don't go smaller than 16th notes.

  • Learn about time signatures and measures. A time signature is at the extreme left side of the staff. It tells you how many notes are in a measure. So if the time signature is 4/4, that means there are 4 quarter notes in every measure. A measure in 4/4 can have any combination of notes and rests adding up to that number. For example, it could have two half notes or a half note and two quarter notes or a full rest. Most rock music is in 2/4 or 4/4 time, while waltzes are in 3/4. A measure is the way notes are grouped in music. One measure of music looks like a group of notes and rests between two bar lines.

  • Learn about dotted notes and rests. If there is a dot next to a note, that note takes one and a half times as long as it would otherwise. For example, a dotted half note would last for three quarter notes instead of the normal two quarter notes.

  • Learn about accents. An accent is a small triangle under the note. It means you should hit the note harder than the surrounding notes.

  • Learn about drum music conventions. In drum sheet music, each drum is written on a different horizontal line of the music staff. Usually, if the music is just for bass, snare and hi-hat, the bass is written on the lowest line, the snare in the middle and the hi-hat on the top line. If the music involves more drums, there will almost always be a key telling you which drum is written on which line.

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