How to Read & Count Snare Drum Music

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Snare drum music has notes and beats like any other music, but it's written differently. Find out how to read and count snare music with help from a professional drummer in this free video.

Part of the Video Series: Drums
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Hey everyone this is Nate Morton. I live in Los Angeles, California and I play drums with Cher and today I'm going to show you how to read and count snare drum music. Reading and counting snare drum music is not unlike reading and counting any music. Typically note values are the same whether you're reading snare drum music or oboe or accordion. The difference in snare drum music is that, well there's several differences but one is that it's all going to be written on one line because basically you're only reading for the one instrument as opposed to their being multiple notes. So we're going to be primarily concerned with the rhythms. The first example that I'm going to share you see that it's actually written in 3/4 which means that as opposed to their being four beats in a bar, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four the 3/4 indicates that there's actually going to be three beats in the bar so time is going to be going by like this, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, right? And so, as we break it down we see that we've got a combination of sixteenth notes and eighth notes, right? So we have the rhythm for example, two sixteenths, eighth, two sixteenths, eighth and then four sixteenth notes, one, two, three, so eighth notes would be here, one and two and three and one and two and three and one and two and three and one and two and three and. So then, our sixteenth notes we're going to break down even a little further than that and go one e and uh, one e and uh, two e and uh, three e and uh, one e and uh, two e and uh, three, e and uh, one e and uh, two e and uh, three e and uh, one e and uh, two e and uh, three e and uh, one, right? So, as we kind of go measure by measure looking at our sixteenths and our eighth notes we kind of figure out what our rhythms are. So for example, the first rhythm, two sixteenths, eighth, one e and, right on our first beat, one e and, the same rhythm on the next beat, one e and two e and. Then we have four sixteenth notes. So we've got one e and, two e and three e and uh, right and then it continues on. So I'm going to go ahead and I'm just going to count out loud the first line of this example. You're going to have something like this one e and, two e and, three e and uh, one e and, two and uh three e and uh, one e and, two e and, three e and uh, one and a two and a three and a one and a two e and uh, three e and uh, one e and a, two and a three e and a. Right, I kind of did the second line as well. So that's going to sound like this when we play it, one, two, three. Right, so that's the first two lines. Well, is that the first two lines? Not quite because if we look a little closer we see that there's actually accents, right? So when we add the accents, the accent is that little note, that little, it looks like a greater than sign over a note and that means that we're going to play that note just a little louder than the rest. So when we add those accents, now it sounds a little like this. Right, that's with our accents. So, that's the basics, the building blocks of learning how to read for snare drum. Now, reading and counting for snare drum with an example like that, transfers even when reading perhaps a more, a slightly more complex snare drum passage. So if we look at the second example we notice that there are these notes with lines like this through the, through the stem of the note and those notes are written to indicate that we're going to play a roll. So for example, let's for one moment pretend that those lines aren't there and look at the first bar. So the first note we've got a quarter note, we're in 4/4 by the way so now we're counting one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one and so on, okay? So we'll look at our first bar. If those lines weren't there, we've got a quarter note. On the next beat we've got two eighth notes, then we've got eighth, two sixteenths then we've got two eighth notes again right? So that rhythm without all those crazy lines and all that stuff, you know, you've got quarter, two eighths, eighth, two sixteenths, two eighths, so that rhythm would sound like this, one, two, three, four, one two and three and a four and, right, one more time. This is just the first bar, one, two, three, four, one two and three and a four and, right? Now, let's take into account these rolls that we have. Our one two and, now we've got these three lines that have got a nine over it, so we're going to play a nine stroke roll in the place of that quarter note. So whereas we would have gone...we're going to play nine strokes. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, ending on the ninth on that first eighth note. So as opposed to, now we've got...right? So, moving on, we've got a five stroke roll on the eighth going to the next there, going to the top of beat three and then on beat four, we've got another five stroke roll. So now that first bar adding in our rolls sounds a little like this, nice and slow, right? One more time on that first bar, nine stroke roll, five stroke roll, five stroke roll on beat four, okay? We're going to continue on. We're going to play the second part. Actually we're going to start, we're going to play the first line. So we've got something like this, one, two, three, four. Okay so I played the first four measures. Now again, we have this issue of our accents, right? So we're going to make it a little more musical. We're going to add some accents in. So with the accents added on the first four measure you're going to get this, one, two, three, four, okay? One more time, one, two, three, four. And you may have also noticed that in general I'm playing this one a little louder. The first example didn't have a dynamic marking written, it just had the accents, whereas this one actually does have forte written so we're going to play our accents relative to forte so we're kind of playing a general forte level which is loud but then our accents have to pop out beyond that. So, taking into account, counting out the basic rhythms first, well first of all figure out what time signature you're in, then counting out the basic rhythms first, then seeing where if there are any accents that exist, where they are placed, counting out our rolls and strokes of the rolls that we're playing and also dealing with dynamics. These are all the elements that go into it and this has been Nate Morton and that is how to read and count snare drum music.

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