Learn how to read music notation for the drums with this series of free video drum lessons. I teach you everything, from notes to rests, as well as everything in between.

These lessons are designed to take you from the very beginning of learning to read drum music, to the more advanced side of music notation.

 

Free Video Drum Lesson (Part 1) – “How To Read Drum Music Notation”

View the video on YouTube HERE – Learn How To Read Drum Music Notation Charts & Scores – Free Video Drum Lesson

 

Free Video Drum Lesson (Part 2) – “How To Read Drum Music Notation”

View the video on YouTube HERE – Learn How To Read Drum Music Notation Charts & Scores – Free Video Drum Lesson

 

Free Video Drum Lesson (Part 3) – “How To Read Drum Music Notation”

View the video on YouTube HERE – Learn How To Read Drum Music Notation Charts & Scores – Free Video Drum Lesson

 

Spanish Translation – Download Spanish transcripts of the video lessons – CLICK HERE

 

Read the Script

This is the script I used to record the 2nd and 3rd parts of this series…

In this Second part of this video lesson, I want to introduce to you the full family of notes commonly used in written music, including triplets, rests and dotted notes.

Combined with the previous lesson, this will give you all of the tools necessary to read, understand and even write your own music notation for the drums.

Let’s crack on then…

First Lesson Refresher

In the first video I introduced you to Time Signatures, Quarter notes, Eighth notes and Sixteenth notes.

We now know that a Quarter note is equal in duration to two Eighth notes.. which in turn is equal in duration to four Sixteenth notes..

The duration of a note is simply how long it lasts, or how much space it takes up within the bar.

I told you that, for most written music, a Quarter note is used to represent each counted beat of the bar.

So for example, lets say that this bar is four counted beats long…(1) and I want each counted beat to be represented by these Quarter notes…(2)

Or, put another way, the Quarter note is going to be equal in duration to each counted beat of the bar…

Because of this, the bar is given a Time Signature of 4/4… (3), commonly known as “common time”, because a lot of music is commonly written with four counted beats per bar.

The bottom number of the Time Signature represents the duration of each counted beat… so, a 4 written at the bottom represents Quarter notes…

It’s worth pointing that there are only 3 numbers commonly used at the bottom of Time Signatures. The first is 4, telling us that each counted beat of the bar is equal to a Quarter note… the Second is 8 representing Eighth notes, and the third is 16 representing Sixteenth notes, but we’re look at these other two in a bit.

The top number of the Time Signature tells you the number of counted beats in the bar…

So a bar with the Time Signature 4/4 tells us that there are four counted beats per bar… and each counted beat is equal to a Quarter note…

So if a bar of 4/4 is four Quarter notes long.. then a bar of 4/4 can also hold up to 8 Eighth notes…(4) or 16 Sixteenth notes…(5) or any number of notes with a combined duration equal to four Quarter notes…(6)

Don’t worry if this is not making complete sense yet, I’m just getting started 🙂

The next common number used at the bottom of Time Signatures is 8, as shown here with this bar of 6/8…(7)

The 8 represents Eighth notes… in other words, each counted beat of the bar is equal in duration to one Eighth note… and as this bar has 6 counted beats… it means it can hold up to a maximum of 6.. Eighth notes.. or any number of notes with a combined duration of 6 Eighth notes…(8)

When counting bars with a Time Signature of “something”, 8, each Eighth note gets it’s own count. In other words, the Eighth notes are now the new counted downbeat.

It’s important to understand that the relationship between the notes stays exactly the same.

So even though we’re in 6/8, a Quarter note is still equal to two Eighth notes and an Eighth note is still equal to two Sixteenth notes. The only thing that’s changed is the counting, and that’s it.

Again, this is really important to understand, and confuses a lot of drummers. The duration of the notes, and how they relate to each other, is always the same no matter what time signature we’re counting in.

At this point, you may be asking, “so why would you use different numbers at the bottom of Time Signatures, if the only thing that changes is the counting?”

This is a big question to answer right now, and I don’t want to go into too much detail at this stage. For now, just understand that the various Time Signatures all have their uses in written music.

The final common number written at the bottom of Time Signatures is 16, representing Sixteenth notes…(9) so this time signature tells us that the bar has 7 counted beats… and that each counted beat is represented by, yep, you guessed it, a Sixteenth note…

This is a very rare time signature indeed. Well, for the vast majority of music – we’ll ignore bands such as Tool and Dream Theater for now 😉

Just remember that for 99% of written music, the bottom number is going to be either a 4, 8 or 16, representing either Quarter notes, Eighth notes or Sixteenth notes respectively.

Lets now take a look at our first new note type in this lesson, the Thirty Second note…

Thirty Second Notes

Quarter notes can be split, or subdivided it, into two Eighth notes… in other words, a Quarter note has the same duration (or takes up the same space within a bar), as two Eighth notes.

And we know we can subdivide each Eighth note into two more evenly spaced Sixteenth notes…

This diagram shows the relationship between the three note types, or subdivisions, we have so far…

But what about playing notes faster than Sixteenth notes?… Well, we can subdivide again, by splitting each Sixteenth note up into two further notes known as Thirty Second notes…

Thirty Second notes get their name because a bar of 4/4 common time can contain a maximum of “32” Thirty Second notes…(10)

Each Thirty Second note has three tails… one more than the Sixteenth note… and two more than the Eighth note…

It’s useful to remember that a Quarter note is equal in duration to 8 Thirty Second notes… so bar of 4/4 can contain up to four groups of 8 Thirty Second notes..

But how are they counted? Well, the Sixteenth note counting system of 1e+a, 2e+a is commonly used…(11) But because each Sixteenth note is equal in duration to two Thirty Second notes… Thirty Second notes are counted in groups of two.. For each Sixteenth note counted, we play two Thirty Second notes like this…

Play & Count Example

Let’s take a look at some more rhythms that contain Thirty Second notes…

Example 1 (12)

Lets start with a relatively simple one. In this bar of 4/4 common time, the Quarter note is equal to each counted beat of the bar, so this Quarter note fills the whole duration of beat 1..

We can see that beat 2 has been filled with 8 Thirty Second notes.. leaving beat 3 to be filled with two Eighth notes, and then beat 4 with another 8 Thirty Second notes.

Now I’m going to set the metronome to 50 beats per minute and each click is going to represent a counted beat of the bar. So let’s now hear what this bar sounds like when played and counted out loud…

Play & Count Example

Example 2 (13)

For our next example, beat 1 has been filled with 8 Thirty Second notes, beat 2 with four Sixteenth notes, beat 3 with two Eighth notes, and beat 1 with one Quarter note.

With the metronome set to 50 Bpm again, lets hear this played out loud..

Example 3 (14)

For this example, beat 2 demonstrates how Thirty Second notes can be joined to Eighth notes by their tails..

These four Thirty Second notes take up the first half of beat 2.. and the Eighth note takes up the second half..

Remember that a Quarter note is equal to 8 Thirty Second notes, so an Eighth note is equal to 4 Thirty Second notes.

We will look at some more examples of this later in the lesson, but for now notice that the one beam has been used to join the Thirty Second notes to the Eighth note.

Beat 4 has been written in exactly the same way..

So the full bar would be played and counted like this..

Play & Count Example

Example 4 (15)

In this last example before moving on, the fist half of beat 1 has been filled with an Eighth note, whilst the second half has been filled with four Thirty Second notes, taking up the + and “a” of beat 1.

Beat 2 contains four Sixteenth notes.. whilst only the first half of beat 3 has been filled with Sixteenth notes, taking up the downbeat of beat 3 and the “e”. The rest of beat 3 has been filled with four Thirty Second notes, taking up the + and “a”.

Again, notice that the Sixteenth notes have been joined to the Thirty Second notes with a single tail..

Here is what the bar sounds like played and counted out loud…

Play & Count Example

We could go on this lesson and subdivide Thirty Second notes even further into 64th notes, but for the vast majority of song tempos, Thirty Second notes are as fast as you’ll ever likely to play, so that’s where we’ll stop for now.

But what about at the other end of the subdivision table? What about notes longer in duration than a Quarter note?

Whole Notes & Half Notes

If we double the duration of the Quarter Note, then we get the Half note…(16) so called because each Half note takes up the space of two Quarter notes… or half a bar of 4/4 common time.

You can see that the Half note looks just like the Quarter note, but has a hollow note head instead of a coloured one…

So a bar of 4/4 can hold a maximum of two Half notes… or any number of notes with a combined duration equal to two Half notes…(17)

Right at the top of the Subdivision table, we have the Whole note…(18) which is equal in duration to two Half notes… or four Quarter notes… or the duration of a whole bar of 4/4 common time, hence the name…

The Whole note is written as just a hollow note head on it’s own, with no stem.

So let’s summarise the whole family of note subdivisions we have so far.

At the top, with the longest duration, is the Whole note…(18), equal in duration to 2 Half notes…(16) which are both equal in duration to 4 Quarter notes…(3) which are then equal in duration to 8 Eighth notes…(4) which are equal to 16 Sixteenth notes…(5) which are then finally equal to 32 Thirty Second notes…(10)

Notice the way the notes are written. The Whole note is just a hollow note head.., then a stem gets added to make the Half note.., then the head is coloured to represent the Quarter note.., then the first tail is added for the Eighth note.., and from then on, an extra tail is added each time we subdivide further into Sixteenth notes.. and Thirty Second notes..

Also notice that the duration of the notes are divided by two each time we move down the subdivisions… A Whole note is worth two Half notes, a Half note is worth two Quarter notes, a Quarter note is worth two Eighth notes etc. etc.

But what if we wanted to subdivide by three instead of just two? Well, this is what Triplets are used for.

Eighth Note Triplets

Triplets scare a lot of drummers when they first start to read music, because they don’t fully understand what they actually are. Well don’t worry, I’m going to hopefully make things crystal clear for you.

Lets go back to a bar of 4/4 common time, containing of course, four counted beats…(3) If we wanted to play two notes per beat then we would use Eighth notes like this…(4)

Likewise, if we wanted to play four evenly spaced notes per beat then we would use Sixteenth notes…(5)

So if we wanted to play three evenly spaced notes per beat of the bar, then we use Eighth note triplets like this…(19)

Each beat of the bar has now been filled with three evenly spaced notes.

A little number three is written above each grouping of notes to indicate that these are no longer played and counted as normal Eighth notes, but are now Eighth Note Triplets.

In other words, the number 3 tells the reader that there are now three evenly spaced Eighth notes in this counted beat of the bar, instead of just two…(4)

Eighth note triplets are commonly counted as…(20) 1-Trip-Let, 2-Trip-Let, 3-Trip-Let, 4-Trip-Let, with each syllable representing each triplet. Another common way to count triplets is…(21) 1+a, 2+a, 3+a, 4+a, but this can be confused with counting Sixteenth notes, and so I prefer to use the first counting system…(20)

So this bar would be counted like this…

Clap & Count Example

Lets now take a look at where Eighth note triplets fall on our table of Subdivisions…

You can see that Eighth note triplets fall in between normal Eighth notes and Sixteenth notes…

And that a Quarter note is equal in duration to three Eighth note triplets…

The Quarter note has been subdivided into three evenly spaced notes. So triplets are just another type of subdivision, except that they subdivide notes into groups of three evenly spaced notes, instead of just multiples of two.

Lets break this down even further so that I can talk about some common misunderstandings.

Here’s a bar of 4/4…(22), the first three counted beats of the bar contain six Eighth notes.. and the last counted beat contains a Quarter note… This bar would be played and counted like this…

Clap & Count Example

Lets now group the tails of Eighth notes into two groups of three like this…(23)

It’s important to note that nothing has changed to this bar of music. As you hopefully remember from the first video, grouping notes by their tails makes no difference to the way they’re played or counted.

Grouping Eighth notes into threes like this does not make them Eighth note triplets.

In order to make them triplets, we need to write in the number three above each grouping of Eighth notes like this…(23 B)

This now indicates to the reader that each Eighth note under the number three is now counted and played as an Eighth note triplet.

But by doing this, we have also changed the duration (or length) of the Eighth notes, and so this bar now needs to be re-written.

This is how the bar should be counted…(24)

If we read from left to right, the first beat contains three evenly spaced Eighth note triplets…

This means that the second grouping of Eighth note triplets start on, and then fill, the duration of beat 2…

As a consequence, this Quarter note now falls on beat 3 of the bar.., and not beat 4 as we had in the previous example. This means that beat 4 is now empty.

We could use something called a Rest to fill beat 4, but we’re talk about rests later on in this lesson. For now, lets just replace the Quarter note on beat 3 with a Half note instead…(25)

This now takes up the duration of both beats 3 and 4… because a Half note is equal to two Quarter notes.

By the way, if Eighth note triplets are not all grouped together by their tails then a little bracket is written to bridge over the affected notes like this…(26), the brackets indicate where each group of triplets start and ends.

We will see more examples of this later in the lesson.

Lets now look at some examples of bars using various subdivisions, including Eighth note triplets.

Be aware that if you’re not used to hearing them, triplets can sound a little strange at first when played with other subdivisions. Bear with me though, and hopefully they won’t sound so weird by the end of this lesson.

Be aware that understanding a piece of music notation may be relatively easy, but to accurately play it along to a metronome might take practice.

Example 1 (27)

Here we see beat 1 filled with three Eighth note triplets. Beat 2 with a Quarter note, Beat 3 with another set of triplets, and beat 4 with two Eighth notes.. and sounds like this..

Play & Count Example

Example 2 (28)

For this example, both beats 1 and 2 have been filled with six Eighth note triplets, beat 3 with two normal Eighth notes and beat 4 with four Sixteenth notes.

Play & Count Example

Example 3 (29)

And finally, in this example beat 1 contains 8 Thirty Second notes, beat 2 has two Eighth notes, beat 3 contains the Eighth note triplets, and beat 4 has been filled with four Sixteenth notes.

And here is what it sounds like..

Play & Count Example

Sixteenth Note Triplets

OK, so we’ve looked at subdividing the Quarter note into three evenly spaced notes, but what about subdividing the Eighth note into three evenly spaced notes?

This is when we use Sixteenth note triplets…(30) You can see that each group of three Sixteenth note triplets takes up half a beat of the bar.

In other words, an Eighth note is equal in duration to three Sixteenth note triplets..

Just like Eighth note triplets, each grouping of Sixteenth note triplets has a little number three written above them…

This indicates to the reader that these are no longer counted and played as normal Sixteenth notes, but are now Sixteenth note triplets.

Sixteenth note triplets are commonly counted..(31) 1-ta-ta+-ta-ta, 2-ta-ta+-ta-ta, 3-ta-ta+-ta-ta, 4-ta-ta+-ta-ta, with each syllable representing each counted Sixteenth note triplet.

Notice that Eighth notes are included in the counting, with the syllables “ta-ta” used to fill the gaps – 1-ta-ta+-ta-ta, 2-ta-ta+-ta-ta etc.

Again, you can use any counting system you like, but I prefer this one because it clearly separates itself from the Eighth note triplet counting system, and we can hear the relationship between the Eighth notes and the Sixteenth note triplets.

Another common way to write Sixteenth note triplets is to group them into blocks of 6 like this…(32) so that each block of Sixteenth note triplets is equal in duration to a Quarter note.

When grouped together like this, a number 6.. (33) is written to represent the whole grouping of triplets.

It’s important to note, that nothing changes to the way they’re counted or played when joined like this. They are still played and counted as Sixteenth note triplets, whether grouped into single blocks of 3…(31) two blocks of three…(32) or single grouping of 6…(33)

In theory, you could also group Eighth note triplets into groups of 6 like this (33 B). These would also be played and counted in exactly the same as Eighth note triplets grouped into three’s, even though you never see them written like this.

So a bar of Sixteenth note triplets would be played and counted like this…

Play & Count Example

Now, for the first time, lets take a look at the complete list of subdivisions commonly used in written music… these are all of the notes that we’re going to read, count and play in this lesson.

This is it. The full list of commonly used music notes.

We start at the top with the Whole Note, and then move down the subdivisions to find Half notes, Quarter notes, Eighth notes, Eighth note triplets, Sixteenth notes, Sixteenth note triplets and then Thirty Second notes.

We can see that Sixteenth note triplets fall in between Sixteenth notes and Thirty Second notes…

There are other triplets such as Quarter note triplets…(34) or even Thirty Second note triplets…(35), but these are less common, and so have not been included in this lesson.

At this stage I want to demonstrate something really cool for you.

If I were to play a bar of each subdivision along to a metronome, one after the other, then you would notice that the speed, or rate of the notes, increase as we move down the subdivisions.

As I play more and more notes per counted beat of the bar, the speed at which I play the notes increases to stay in time with the metronome.

Let me show you what I mean. I’m going to set the tempo of the metronome to 50 Bpm… and each click is going to represent the counted beats of the bar…

As I play through the subdivisions, notice the speed of the notes increasing whilst the Tempo of the metronome stays constant.

Here we go then…

Play & Count Example

So it was the number of notes that I played per click that increased, and not the actual Tempo of the music.

This is the power of the subdivisions. They allow us to play notes of varying speeds without changing the tempo of the song.

This gives us loads of rhythmic possibilities when playing the drums. We could choose to play a drum fill as either Sixteenth notes or Thirty Second notes for example, depending on the tempo of the song or what best fitted the music.

This is why the Subdivision table is something I still practice to this day. I like to randomly move from line to line and practice combinations of Subdivisions that I find tricky.

For example, when I first started I found moving from Eighth note triplets to Sixteenth notes a little tricky, as well as moving from Sixteenth note triplets to Thirty Second notes, and vice versa. I don’t know why, but I still have to concentrate when moving between these two combinations; and it seems to be the same for a lot of other musicians as well.

I highly suggest that you practice running through this table with a metronome. Don’t forget to start slow and then gradually increase the tempo over time. These are all of the notes that you’re ever likely to play, so make sure you learn them off by heart and take full advantage of them in your own drumming.

Before we move on, let me show you some examples that use various subdivisions, including Sixteenth note triplets.

Example 1 (36)

For this bar, beat 1 has been filled with six Sixteenth note triplets, beat 2 with two Eighth notes, beat 3 with six more Sixteenth note triplets, and beat 4 with four Sixteenth notes, and sounds like this…

Play & Count Example

Example 2 (37)

Here’s our next example. Beat 1 has been filled with three Eighth note triplets and beat 2 with six Sixteenth note triplets.

Now, in the first lesson I briefly told you that any note with a tail can be joined to any other note with a tail, even if both notes are from different subdivisions.

So for beat 3, we have another example of this. The three Sixteenth note triplets take up the first half of beat 3.. and the Eighth note takes up the second half.. but both groups have been joined by a single tail..

This helps the reader to clearly see that these two groups of notes belong to the same counted beat of the bar.

You can see that the last note here is still a Sixteenth note with two tails, and this note is still an Eighth note with one tail.

Again, it just helps to make the bar easier to read…well, I certainly think so anyway.

Beat 4 uses the same rhythm from earlier in this lesson, the four Thirty Second notes have been joined to the one Eighth note with a single tail.

This is what the bar sounds like played and counted out loud..

Play & Count Example

Example 3 (38)

For this next example, I’ve decided not to join the two groups of Sixteenth note triplets in beat 3 with a tail. As already mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter whether we group them into 3’s or 6’s. They’re still played and counted as Sixteenth note triplets.

Notice that beat 2 has an Eighth note taking up the first half of the beat, which has then been joined by it’s tail to the group of Sixteenth note triplets that take up the second half of the beat..

The whole bar sounds like this…

Play & Count Example

Example 4 (39)

Here’s another example where notes of differing subdivisions have been tied together with their tails.

The first half of beat 1 has been filled with a group of Sixteenth note triplets, which have been tied with two Sixteenth notes, taking up the second half of beat 1.

These two Sixteenths do not fall under the triplet bracket and so are counted normally.

And remember these from our first lesson? Two Sixteenth notes tied to an Eighth note for beat 3.. and an Eighth note tied to two Sixteenth notes for beat 4..

So lets now hear what this bar sounds like played and counted out loud…

Play & Count Example

Rests

I purposely left the subject of Rests until last in this lesson, not because they’re complicated or hard to understand, but because now that we know the full family of Subdivisions, Rests are going to be easy-peasy….hopefully 🙂

You can think of Rests as a way to fill up unwanted space within a bar of written music.

Unlike music notes, we don’t play Rests, but we do count them. They’re really useful when trying to write a piece of music that requires specific spacing between notes.

Let me explain further.

As we know, all notes have a duration that take up a certain space within the bar.

But each note also has it’s own equivalent rest, with exactly the same duration.

So a Whole note has a rest that looks like this, with the same duration as 4 Quarter notes… the Half note rest looks like this, and has a duration of two Quarter notes… this is the Eighth note rest… the Sixteenth note rest… and finally the Thirty Second note rest…

Horrible looking squiggles aren’t they? Don’t get freaked out by their random looking shapes though. The hardest part about rests is remembering which one represents which subdivision.

With that in mind, let me give you some helpful pointers.

The Whole Note and Half Note rests are both these little black rectangles. The Whole note Rest hangs from the line… whilst the Half note rest sits on top of the line like this…

Then we get the Quarter note rest, which is the most distinguished looking in my opinion. It’s also pretty tricky to draw by hand. Hopefully you can see that it looks kind of long and thin, just like a Quarter note…

At least the other rests sort of look like the notes they represent. So the Eighth note rest looks like this, with a single tail coming off to the side here… just like an Eighth note with it’s single tail…

The Sixteenth note rest is exactly the same but has two tails coming off to the side… just like the Sixteenth note…

And it’s the same for Thirty Second note rests… with three tails just like Thirty Second notes…

It’s worth pointing out that unlike notes, rests cannot be joined by their tails and are always written on their own.

Because triplets use the same note types as the other subdivisions, they also use the same rests. So for example, if you had a bar of Eighth note triplets like this…(20) then you could use Eighth note rests to fill in the gaps where you don’t want to play any notes… because the rests appear under the triplet bracket, they have the same duration as the Eighth note triplets…

Staying with this example for a moment, I want to deviate from the subject of Rests briefly and talk about my self-imposed rule when writing notation entitled – “less ink is better”.

I always try to use minimum notes and rests when writing music. It’s not only easier to read in most cases, but it also uses less ink in writing it, hence the name.

So, beat 1 could be rewritten like this…(42) Instead of using an Eighth note and an Eighth note rest (41), we could replace both with just a single Quarter note… (42). It’s played and counted exactly the same as before, but the Quarter note now takes up the duration of both the Eighth note and the Eighth note rest.

Remember that the relationship between the different subdivisions always stays the same. So a Quarter note is still equal to two Eighth notes, even when written as triplets.

But I don’t like writing this particular rhythm this way, I prefer to notate the first and third triplet note of beat 1 like this…(43)

The tails join over the rest in the middle so there’s no need to write in the triplet bracket either. I think that the joining of the tails has helped to make things a little easier to read.

Beat 2 can’t actually be written any other way. Well, you could replace the Eighth note rest with two Sixteenth note rests like this… (44), but then what would be the point in that? When we already have a single rest that does the same job.

Do you see how beat 3 could be rewritten? It’s actually a bit silly writing it as a triplet because the first note falls on the downbeat of beat 3, and then nothing else is played for the rest of the beat. So why don’t we just replace the whole triplet with a normal Quarter note instead like this… (45)

Beat 4 is the same as beat 3, it can’t really be written any other way.

So we’ve moved from this… (41) to this… (45) We’ve used less ink and, in my humble opinion, made it slightly easier to read.

OK, lets now move on to Sixteenth note triplet rests…(46)

Sixteenth note rests written under the triplet bracket have the same duration as Sixteenth note triplets…

Just like the Eighth note triplet rest, we use Sixteenth note triplet rests to fill parts of the triplet we don’t want to play on.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, this is a nasty bar to read and play. So don’t worry, you’re not alone in thinking that. Even I would find this bar “yucky” to play 🙂

With that in mind then, lets try to make things a little easier for ourselves by rewriting the bar using less ink.

So, check this out, as I hope to blow your mind 🙂

All three combinations of a Sixteenth note and rest, are the equivalent of an Eighth note. So we can replace each combination with an Eighth note instead..(47)

Remember that an Eighth note is still equal to two Sixteenth notes, even when written under triplets.

But guess what, beat 1 now has three evenly spaced Eighth notes, which is exactly the same as Eighth note triplets… (48)

So the rhythm we had written as Sixteenth note triplets before(46), is actually the equivalent of three evenly spaced Eighth note triplets (48)

At this stage, you might not fully understand why, but knowing little things like this certainly helps to build a bigger and stronger understanding of the subdivisions, as well as how they relate to each other.

Going back beat 2 in our example, the first thing we could do is replace the two Sixteenth note rests with their equivalent of one single Eighth note rest like this…(49)

We could also join the tails over the rest like this… (50) that means we don’t have to write in a triplet bracket…(51) because we can clearly see where all three notes of the triplet start and finish.

Notice that this last note is still a Sixteenth note with two tails, even if the bottom tail has been drawn only half way across the beam. We’ll see more examples of this later in the lesson.

Moving on, do you see how beat 3 could be rewritten using another subdivision? Well, this single Sixteenth note triplet actually falls on the + of beat 3, so we could write this instead…(52) The Eighth note rest fills the first half of beat 3, which means that the Eighth note then falls on the +, filling the second half of the beat.

Using a Rest has given us a way of placing a note on the + without their having to be any notes in the first half of the beat. If you think about it, there would be no other way of writing this without the use of a rest.

Pretty cool, huh? Or maybe not, depending on how interesting you find this stuff. Me, I’m a total “notation geek” 🙂

Going back to our example, we don’t need to rewrite beat 4. There’s only one other way to re-write it anyway; as two groups of three Sixteenth note triplets like this… (53)

But again, these two groups of triplets are within beat 4, so lets group them together with their tails and help make that clearer to the reader (52)

So we’ve gone from this squiggly mess…(46) to this slightly less squiggly mess (52)

It would still be a tough bar to read and count, but at least it’s easier on the eye.

And that’s it for now. Rests simply fill up spaces within a bar. We count them but don’t play them, and each subdivision has it’s own equivalent rest.

So before I give you a load of musical examples involving rests, let me first introduce you to the final bit of new notation I want to talk about in this lesson, the dotted note and rest…

Dotted Notes and Rests

Any note or rest can be written with a dot after it like this…

Dots are used to increase the note or rests duration by half. In other words, the dot makes them 50% longer.

So because a Quarter note is equal to two Eighth notes… a dotted Quarter note is equal to three Eighth Notes…

Likewise, an Eighth note is equal to two Sixteenth notes, so a dotted Sixteenth note is equal in duration to three Sixteenth notes…

And it’s the same for the rests as well…

Now, for reasons that will hopefully become more apparent over time, dots are commonly written after Quarter and Eighth notes only. In theory, any note or rest could be dotted, but you just don’t see it very often.

I think of dots as being exclusively used to turn the duration of Quarter notes and rests into three Eighth notes, and Eighth notes and rests into three Sixteenth notes.

So lets now dive into some musical examples of this. I find that the best way to learn music notation is to see it used in action.

Make sure to watch all of the examples in full, as I give tips and advice throughout.

Full Examples

Example 1 (54)

As I’ve already mentioned, I like to use as little ink as possible, and if possible, group notes into individual beats of the bar using their tails. This helps to make music notation easier to read and count.

So firstly, lets take a look at how we can notate just single notes within each beat of the bar, falling on all four of the Sixteenth note positions, 1e+a etc.

Remember that I’m trying to use as little ink as possible, and I want each beat of the bar to be as obvious to the reader as possible.

So to write a single note falling on the downbeat, and nothing else, such as we see here for beat 1, we use a Quarter note.

For the second beat of the bar, we want to play on the “e” and nothing else. So we use a Sixteenth note rest to skip over the downbeat of beat 2, which means that this note then falls on the “e”.

Now, we don’t want to play any more notes in beat 2, so this note needs to take up the duration of three Sixteenth notes, the “e” and the +a. A normal Eighth note would just take up two Sixteenth notes, the e+, so I’ve given this Eighth note a dot. This has increased it’s duration to three Sixteenth notes, meaning that the whole of beat 2 has now been filled, and no other rests are needed.

We could have written beat 2 like this…(55), but this would have required using a Sixteenth note rest to fill up the “a”. Instead, I made the Eighth note dotted(54), thus increasing the Eighth notes duration, and so removing the rest.

With me so far? Don’t worry if you’re not. I have many more examples to come that will hopefully make all of this a lot clearer for you.

Moving onto Beat 3 then, we can see that this Eighth note rest takes up the first half of the beat, the 1 and the “e”, which means that this Eighth note then falls on the +, filling the duration of the “a” as well.

Now beat 4 uses a dotted Eighth note rest to push the last note onto the “a”. The rest falls on the downbeat of beat 4, and because it’s dotted, it has the duration of the first three Sixteenth notes. We use a Sixteenth note for the final note because we don’t want it’s duration to roll over into the next beat of the bar. The Sixteenth note only fills the “a”, and not the next beat or bar.

We could have rewritten beat 4 like this (56), using an Eighth note rest and a Sixteenth note rest to replace the duration of the dotted Eighth note rest, but this uses extra ink, and we don’t like that, do we? 🙂

So each beat of the bar has it’s own set of notes and rests, and is self contained.

Lets now hear how this bar would be played and counted

Play & Count Example

Next, lets take a look at how we would write two notes falling on each of the four Sixteenth note positions.

Example 2 (57)

Here’s our example (57).

We want the first two notes of beat 1 to fall on the 1 and the “e”, so we write it like this. The first note is a Sixteenth, which means the Second note falls on the “e” as desired. I’ve made this a dotted Eighth note so that it takes up the duration of the “e”, as well as the + and “a”.

Another common way to write this same rhythm would be like this…(58) Two Sixteenth notes, and an Eighth note rest to fill up the second half of the beat. It’s even a little friendlier to read if you’re not used to dotted notes, but we want to use as little ink as possible, so lets go back to the first version (57)

Notice how these two notes have been bridged together by their tails. Here’s the Sixteenth note with it’s two tails, and here’s the Eighth note with it’s single tail. The Sixteenth notes can’t be joined to the Eighth note with both of their tails because this would then turn the Eighth note into a Sixteenth note like this…(58). Instead (57), the Second Sixteenth note tail is drawn only half way across the beam like this..

We want the notes in beat 2 to fall on the “e” and the +, so a Sixteenth note rest has been used to fill just the downbeat of beat 2. This means that this Sixteenth note falls on the “e”, and this Eighth note on the +. The Eighth note takes up the duration of the “a” of beat 2 as well, so we do not need to use any more rests.

Again, notice how only one of the two Sixteenth notes tails have been bridged over to the Eighth note, keeping the Eighth note as an Eighth note. Otherwise, it would look this.. (59) and we would have to use a Sixteenth note rest to fill up the “a” like this..

Beat 3 is relatively simple to read and write. The Eighth note rest fills the downbeat of 3 and the “e”, which means that these two Sixteenth notes then fall on the + and “a”.

Now beat 4 is very interesting. We want the notes to fall on the downbeat of beat 4 and “a” only. So this is the way to write it using as little ink as possible.. The dotted Eighth note takes up the duration of the first three Sixteenth notes, allowing this Sixteenth note to then fall on the “a”. The two notes have been joined by only a single tail so that this first note remains an Eighth note.

Like a lot of notation, we can write this rhythm another way…(60). But why would we want to use a rest when we can simply increase the Eighth notes duration using a dot instead? (57) We have the dot at our disposal, so lets use it in our notation.

All of the notes within each beat of the bar have been joined using their tails where possible, and we’ve used as little ink as possible.

Lets now hear how this bar would be played and counted.

Play & Count Example

Example 3 (61)

This next example (61) is going to show us how best to write three notes per beat.

Hopefully you already recognise the rhythms in beats 1 and 3 from the first video lesson. Using combinations of two Sixteenth notes and an Eighth note, we have notes that fall on the 1e+.. and the 1+a.. without the need for using rests like this…(62)

A Sixteenth note rest (61) has been written on the downbeat of beat 2, which means that these three Sixteenth notes fall on the e+a of beat 2.

Beat 4 is one of those rhythms that at first looks a little weird. So let me try and “un-weird” it for you 🙂

First of all, we can rewrite this rhythm like this… (63) You’ll probably agree that this rhythm is now a little clearer to read. We’re playing on the downbeat of 4, the “e”, skipping the + and playing on the “a”. But in order to use less ink we can remove this rest by replacing this Second Sixteenth note with an Eighth note instead…(61)

What freaks people out about the look of this rhythm are the half beamed tails. Hopefully why they’ve been joined by their tails like this is now starting to make a bit more sense. By beaming them this way, this remains a Sixteenth note, crucially this is still an Eighth note, taking up both the “e” and the + of the beat, and this remains a Sixteenth note falling on the “a”.

There’s no reason why you couldn’t write this rhythm like this (63) but we want to use all of the notation tools available to us and enforce my self imposed rule of “less ink is better” (61).

Lets now hear what this bar sounds like played and counted.

Play & Count Example

Before we move onto the next example, let me quickly summarise for you all of the common ways used to notate the four Sixteenth note positions…

You might want to press pause and become familiar with these very commonly written rhythms.

OK, so lets now look at some examples that use other subdivisions as well.

Example 4 (64)

Falling on the downbeat of beat 1 is a dotted Quarter note. This means that it takes up the duration of three Eighth notes, which means that these two Sixteenth notes fall on the + and “a” of beat 2. The downbeat of beat 1, the +, and the downbeat of beat 2 have all been taken up by the dotted Quarter note.

Remember that a Dotted Quarter notes is equal to a beat and a half in 4/4 common time.

We could use an undotted Quarter note and Eighth note rest to write the same rhythm like this (65). But we have the dotted note in our arsenal, so lets use it (64)

By the way, this is the only time you will see me write a note that rolls over into the next beat of the bar. The dotted Quarter note is really useful for representing a beat and a half of a bar.

We’ve covered beat 2, so moving onto beat 3 we have four Thirty Second notes taking up the first half of the beat, and two Sixteenth notes taking up the + and the “a”. Remember that four Thirty Second notes have the same duration as two Sixteenth notes…

Also notice that the two Sixteenth notes in beat 2 have not been joined by their tails to the four Thirty Second notes. This is to help the reader clearly see where beat 2 ends, and where beat 3 begins. Again, it just makes it easier to read, and that’s got to be a good thing, right? 🙂

And finally, beat 4 has been filled with Eighth note triplets. The first note has been rested, so a triplet bracket is used to clearly show the rest is included within the triplet..

Before I play you this example, I want to quickly talk about how I like to generally count bars of music.

I always count Eighth notes as default. So if nothing else is being played then I will count 1+2+3+4+. I only start counting the Sixteenth notes on the “e” and “a”, if notes are actually played on them.

So in this example you can see that the first beat and a half is just counted Eighth notes. Then we count the “a” because a note is played on it. All of the Sixteenth notes are counted in beat 3 because they’re all played. And for beat 4, I change my counting to triplets.

Another little side point, when I was learning how to read and count I would practice counting out loud as much as possible. Of course, once you have internalised the rhythms, you can count in your head instead.

But be honest with yourself. If you’re not clearly counting in your head then go back to practising out loud. Learning to count these rhythms is half the battle when learning how to read music.

So going back to this example, lets now hear what it sounds like.

Play & Count Example

Example 5 (66)

The notes in beat 1 fall on 1, the “e”, the + is skipped, and the “a”. So 1e+a.

The Eighth note on beat 2 takes up the first half of the beat, with the set of Sixteenth note triplets filling the second half. Just for some variation, I’ve written in the triplet bracket above the notes, even though I didn’t have to.

Beat 3 is played 1e+a

The first half of beat 4 is filled with Sixteenth note triplets, whilst the second half contains two Sixteenth notes. This beat is counted 4tata+a

So here’s the whole bar played out loud then..

Play & Count Example

Example 6 (67)

This example demonstrates just how useful rests and dots can be for creating really interesting rhythms. We’re only playing on beat 1, the “a” and the + of beat 2 using these two groupings of notes and rests..

This Sixteenth note rest falls on the downbeat of beat 3, allowing these three Sixteenth notes to then start on the “e”, filling the rest of the beat.

The triplets in beat 4 fall on the first and third note of each grouping of three. This type of rhythm is commonly called a “Shuffle”, but we will talk about this more later in the lesson.

For now, lets just hear what this whole bar sounds like…

Play & Count Example

Example 7 (68)

Beat 1 contains a combination of Thirty Second notes and Sixteenth notes that you’ll very rarely come across at faster tempos, but that work really well when played at slower tempos.

The first two Thirty Second notes take up the downbeat of beat 1 which means that this Sixteenth note then falls on the “e”. The + is filled with two more Thirty Second notes whilst the “a” is rested with a Sixteenth note rest.

Both beats 2 and 3 have been filled with a half note. Another way you might see this written is with a Quarter note and a Quarter note rest like this…(69), but we want to use less ink, so lets stick with the Half note (68)

For beat 4 we have a set of Eighth note triplets, and the third triplet note is rested.

Here’s what this bar sounds like..

Play & Count Example

Example 8

Lets now start to orchestrate our rhythms around the drums. This obviously makes reading a little trickier, as we now have to not only count the rhythms, but also read where each note falls on the drum kit.

Don’t worry though, you won’t be alone in finding these hard to read. I’ve always found reading rhythms spread over the toms tricky.

That being said though, I don’t really need to be able to sight read quickly because I’m not a studio drummer. If I wanted to learn a piece of written music then I can play it slowly and repeat it until memorised.

That’s the power written music gives you; being able to learn at your own pace and in your own time.

OK, so here’s our first orchestrated example (70)

Hopefully you remember from our first lesson that notes written here are played on the Bass Drum, here for the High Tom, here for the Medium Tom and here for the Floor Tom.

So lets here how it sounds..

Play & Count Example

Example 9 (71)

Playing a bar of music like this with mixed subdivisions and various different drums can be hard.

My advice is to play all the notes on just one drum to start off with, so that you at least get used to reading the rhythm first.

So if I were to play this bar on just the Snare drum it would sound like this..

Play & Count Example on Snare Drum

Now that we can read and count the rhythm, we can now look at the orchestration.

Crash cymbals are written above the top line like this..

So we’re playing the Snare Drum, and Crash and Bass Drum here, the High Tom, and Crash and Bass Drum here, the Medium Tom, and Crash and Bass Drum here, and the Floor Tom, and Crash and Bass Drum here.

Notice that we’re moving around the drums, from Snare Drum to Floor Tom. Noticing patterns things like this helps to play the bar.

Beat 4 has been filled with Sixteenth note triplets, and just for fun, I’ve grouped them into two groups of 3.

So lets now hear what the bar sounds like when played and counted out loud..

Play & Count Example

Example 10 (72)

This is a really cool rhythm that uses two new pieces of notation we haven’t seen yet.

The first thing to point is that notes that fall on this line are played with the auxiliary pedal of a Double Bass Drum Pedal. So, as we already know, the first Bass Drum note written here is played with your leading foot.., and the Second note written here is supposed to be played with the other foot..

If you don’t have a Double Bass Drum Pedal, then you would obviously try to play both notes with just the one pedal.

So going back to beat 1, we can see that the first three notes are Sixteenths, and the “a” of beat 1 contains two Thirty Second notes played on the Double Bass Drum.. It’s the same for the “e” and “a” of beat 2..

The other piece of notation I want to show you are these little notes here. These are used to represent “Flams”, played either right handed…(play), or left handed…(play)

The little notes are called “Grace Notes”.. and indicate the light stroke played just before the main stroke.

Also, do you see that the last Sixteenth note of beat 1 has been joined to the Thirty Second notes with two tails, instead of just the one as we’ve seen in previous examples. This is all fine and dandy because both notes still retain their value. The Sixteenth note still has two tails.., and the Thirty Second note still has three…

We could join the notes with a single tail instead like this… (72), or have them not joined at all like this…(73)

It really doesn’t matter and has no affect on the way the notes are counted or played. It’s just another choice open to us when joining notes by their tails.

OK, so let’s hear what this bad boy sounds like then…

Play & Count Example

Drum Beat Examples

In this final section of the lesson I want to focus on notating drum beats. Lets take a look at our first example now…

Example 1 (74)

First thing to notice about this bar, are the two new pieces of notation here. The “o” represents an open Hi-Hat, and the + represents a closed Hi-Hat. So, in this drum beat the Hi-hat is opened on the + of beat 1, and closed again on the downbeat of beat 2.

Some drummers like to write a note where the Hi-Hat closes like this…(75) This X note head, written in this position, represents the Hi-Hat played with the foot. But it’s inclusion isn’t necessary if there’s already another note written in the same place where the Hi-Hat closes..

So if we took away the Hi-Hat and Snare Drum notes on beat 2 like this…(76) then we would need to write in the Hi-Hat foot note in order to perch our little + above it.

Also notice that I have included a suggested sticking for the two Snare Drum notes at the end of the bar. The R represents the Right hand, and L the Left.

Whenever you see a suggested sticking like this, use whichever hand you naturally lead with. So if you’re left handed, then the R is going to represent Left for you.

Whenever I’m checking out a drum beat on paper for the first time, one of the first things I look at is what the leading hand is doing. In this example, you can see that the leading hand is going to play continuous Eighth notes on the Hi-Hat right up to beat 4 of the bar..

Next, you want to find out where the Snare Drum back beats fall (on beats 2 and 4 in this case).

Then I finally check out the Bass Drum in order to get a good idea of the rhythm being played.

I’m now going to show you another way we could write this bar.

As we know from our first lesson, notes joined vertically by the stem are played at the same time as each other..

But we could rewrite the bar like this…(77)

The Bass Drum has now been given it’s own set of notes and rests at the bottom of the bar. So we now have two lines of notes, one for the hands, and one for the feet.

You can see that a good writer will still try to line the notes up vertically with each other, even though they’re not joined by the same note stem anymore.

Writing two sets of notes like this allows the reader to very quickly read the rhythm being played on the Bass Drum separate to the hands, and vice versa.

So for the Bass Drum we have a Quarter note falling on beat 1. The dotted Eighth note rest takes up the first three Sixteenth notes of beat 2, which means this Sixteenth note falls on the “a”. It hasn’t been joined to the Eighth note on beat 3 by it’s tail because it belongs in a separate beat of the bar. These two Eighth notes fill beat 3 and then beat 4 is rested with a Quarter note rest.

So if we read the Bass Drum line only, then we get this rhythm..

Play & Count Example

Whilst the hands are playing this…

Play & Count Example

So lets now write the two lines together again and hear what this groove sounds like when played as a whole…

Play & Count Example

Example 2 (78)

For this next example lets stick with writing the hands and feet separately. It’s very common for the Bass Drum to be written on it’s own like this when playing a repeating pattern, especially if the hands are doing something more complicated over the top.

Playing Quarter notes on the Bass Drum like this is commonly referred to as playing “four on the floor” for hopefully obvious reasons.

Notice that no Hi-Hats are written above each of these Snare Drum notes.. This suggests to the reader that the Hi-Hat pattern is to be played as a double handed, hand-to-hand Hi-Hat pattern.

Most of the time though, a writer will make this obvious by writing the suggested sticking underneath like this…(79)

So lets now hear what this drum beat sounds like…

Play & Count Example

Example 3 (80)

Take a look at this drum beat. First thing you might notice are these angled brackets above the notes here.. and these round brackets around the note heads here..

The angled brackets are called “Accents” and represent notes that are to be played loudly. Usually on the Snare Drum, and usually as rim shots. Accents can be written over any note and played on any part of the drum kit, including cymbals.

The round brackets are used to represent what are commonly called “Ghost notes”. These notes are played as quietly as possible.

Just like Accents, Ghost notes can also be written anywhere and on any note.

So these Accented notes are going to be played as rim shots on the Snare Drum like this…(play) And the Ghost Notes are going to be played quietly with little tap strokes on the Snare Drum like this…(play)

Just for fun, lets separate the two lines and take a closer look at what’s actually being played…(81)

You can see that we’re only playing the Bass Drum on 1+ and 3+, and that were actually playing Quarter notes on the Ride cymbal. I can make that even clearer for you by separating the Ride from the other notes like this…(82)

These four Quarter notes are played on beats 1, 2, 3 and 4.

And you can see that the Bass Drum and Snare Drum are actually playing this rhythm…

Play & Count Example

But lets go back to the original example, as this is how I like to write my drum beats most of the time; with all of the notes joined together.

By the way, any sufficient reader should be able to read the previous variations with equal ease. So if you find that one is easier to read than the other, then this is probably because you’re still not familiar with the way notes can be grouped by their tails and stems. Don’t worry though, this is exactly how it started for me as well.

So this whole drum beat example sounds like this…

Play & Count Example

Example 4 (83)

For our next example, lets look at a drum beat written in triplets.

Notice that we’re playing the first and third note of each group of triplets on the Hi-Hat..

As I mentioned earlier, drummers commonly call this rhythm “the Shuffle”, and it sounds like this..

Count & Clap Example

I’ve written an open Hi-Hat, represented by the little “o”, above the last note of beat 4.., which then closes on beat 1 when the bar is repeated, hence why I have written the + above the downbeat of beat 1.

When you first play the bar, the + tells you nothing, but when you get to the end of the bar and then repeat it, you need to know where to close the Hi-Hat after it’s been opened.

Now, I want to hopefully blow your mind one more time by re-writing this bar as a bar of 12/8, meaning that there are now 12 Eighth notes per bar…(84)

You might notice something familiar? Yep, it’s exactly the same as the bar of 4/4 and, in fact, will also be played exactly the same. The only thing that changed was the Time Signature and so, as a consequence, the way the Eighth Notes in the bar are counted.

This is because a bar of 4/4 can hold up to 12 Eighth note triplets…(85)

The same number of Eighth notes as a bar of 12/8…(86)

Because of this, some music that’s played in 4/4 common time triplets, (especially slow tempo ballads) tend to be written using the Time Signature 12/8.

I think of this magical Time Signature as the “Triplet based Time Signature”, as it allows the writer to work in groups of three without having to constantly write triplet brackets.

So, it doesn’t matter whether this drum beat is written in 12/8…(84) or in 4/4 using Eighth note triplets…(83). Both bars sound and are played exactly the same, the only thing that’s different is the way it’s written and counted.

Speaking of which, lets have a listen, but before we do, I want to quickly show you some other things that you’ll commonly see written in bars of 12/8…(87)

Because a bar of 12/8 can be thought of as four groups of three Eighth notes.. The dotted Quarter note and the dotted Quarter note rests are commonly used to represent each grouping.. Remember that a dotted Quarter note or rest is equal to three Eighth notes in duration.

So you tend to see a lot of dotted Quarter notes and rests in the Time Signatures 12/8, and even in 6/8.., which is just half a bar of 12/8 if you think about it.

Moving now onto the subject of counting short cuts, here’s an example of a “Shuffle” rhythm being played on the hi-hats…(88)

Counting all three triplet notes 1 Trip Let 2 Trip Let 3 Trip Let 4 Trip Let can become a real mouthful, especially at faster tempos. So drummers tend to count shuffled triplets 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + *Counted Swung*

You can hear that I gave the counting a lilt (duh duh-duh duh-duh…). I’m only counting the first and third triplet note of each beat, and skipping over the middle note.

Clap & Count Example

The counting is said to have been “Swung” or “Shuffled”.

For beats of the bar where the middle triplet is played though, such as in beat 3 here (89), triplets are counted in full.. so this whole bar would be counted like this..

Count Example

Let’s now hear what the drum beat sounds like on the drums…

Play & Count Example

Example 5

For the final example of this lesson, I want to stay in triplets and look at the rhythm commonly known as the “Jazz Ride Cymbal Pattern” (90)

This is the Ride Cymbal pattern that a lot of drummers play in Jazz music. Of course, drummers improvise a lot within this style of music, but this is the standard pattern you’ll find in most “Jazz Drumming 101” exercise books.

In Jazz, the Hi-Hat also tends to be stepped on beats 2 and 4 of the bar as shown here…

So using the new swung Eighth note counting system, the whole bar sounds like this…

Play & Count Example

Lets now add in some Snare and Bass Drum notes to make it a bit more interesting to play, (91) and hear what that sounds like…

Play & Count Example

Conclusion

Like most things in life, reading and writing drum notation becomes easier the more you practice it. For me, learning to read music was a step by step process that I got better at over time.

I found the whole subject of reading music a little overwhelming at first, but the potential really excited me. I could imagine writing out my own drum parts, so that I would never forget them again. Or being able to read and understand the 1000’s of available drum education books and DVD’s. Or even being able to transcribe note for note, and then teach myself my favourite songs, drum beats and fills.

The potential is enormous and being able to read and write drum music has been the most useful skill I ever learned for the drums.

So, I hope you find your own motivation for learning drum notation as I did, and remember, learning to read and write music becomes easier with practice. So don’t give up, and I promise you won’t regret it.

In fact, you’ll look back and wonder how on earth you ever survived without being to able to read and write music in the first place.

Thanks for watching this lesson and please do check out the 100’s of other videos, charts, DVD’s and books I have available from my website www.DrumsTheWord.com

Until next time we meet, happy drumming to you!

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