Notation Guide - Drums

A detailed exaplanation on how drums are notated.

Drums are notated with circular note heads (the exception being our notation for hitting the rim of a drum).

A drum is a circular 'shell' with skins on both the top and bottom. The shell can be made from a variety of materials. Woods such as Birch, Maple, Mahogany and Beech are common. Metals such as Aluminium, Bronze and Copper are also widely use. Each material has it's own distinct sound characteristics and construction methods. Skins can be tuned to create different tones and pitches. Drums come in a huge variety of sizes. Each type of drum has a general size, for example snare drums are most commonly 14" in diameter and between 5" and 6" deep. The diameter and depth of a drum have a big impact on its tone. A bigger drum will generally be lower pitched with a 'fuller' tone where a smaller drum would be higher pitched and quite 'snappy' in tone.

It also worth noting that different drummers kits will sound very different. For example, a drum that is notated as a hi hat for one drummer may actually sound like it is a floor tom because it is tuned low. Likewise, another drummers floor tom may sound like a mid tom because it is tuned higher. Our notation refers to where the drum is positioned on the kit rather than it's actual pitch.


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The Snare Drum

The Snare Drum

The snare drum is notated in the second gap down with a circular note head on the 'middle C' note, which is the second gap down in the stave. In a groove its main use is for accenting beats in the pattern, most commonly the back beat. There are countless uses of the snare in fills. It is often used when a roll is played around various parts of the kit, straight rolls can be played on it with or without accents or it can be combined with the kick drum and cymbals to create a wide variety of interesting parts.

A snare drum is most commonly made of wood or metal, with a skin on the top and bottom and a 'rattle' across the bottom 'resonant' head. This rattle is what gives the snare drum its distinctive 'raspy' sound. Snares come in a variety of sizes but the standard is 14" x 5.5".


The Side Stick

The Side Stick

The side stick is notated on the middle C note, in the second gap down, which is the same place a normal snare is written. It has a circular note head with a diagonal line through it. This is a technique that creates another sound of your snare drum, it is quite similar to the sound of clicking your sticks only better! To create this sound you will be hitting the rim of the drum whilst having the 'butt' of your stick on the skin. Using your left hand, place the butt of the stick slightly to the left of the centre of the snare. Using mostly the palm of your hand push the stick down so that it strikes the rim of the drum about two thirds up the stick. When done correctly you will get a nice full sounding 'click'.


The Second Snare Drum

The Second Snare Drum

The second snare drum is notated on the middle C note, in the second gap down, which is the same place a standard snare drum is written. It has a circular note head that is never coloured in but has a dot in the centre. Two snare drums on a kit isn't something you will come across very often and this notation is most commonly used in transcriptions that are arrangements of sampled parts.

The note head used for the 'second snare' is sometimes used to represent electronically triggered sounds. In this case the note head is moved to the part of the kit that is most appropriate. So if there is an electronically triggered high tom, the second snare note head will be placed in the top gap (where the high tom would go).


The Kick Drum (Bass Drum)

The Kick Drum

The kick drum is notated on the low G note, in the very bottom gap, with a circular note head. It has a wide variety of uses in a groove but most commonly it accents specific beats in the bar and adds decoration around the back beat. In a fill it's primary function is keeping time, but it will also be used to accent specific beats or as part of a roll type pattern.

Bass drums are most commonly made of wood and come in quite a wide variety of sizes. Popular sizes are 20" to 22" diameter and 18" - 22" depth. A bass drum is played with your right foot (or left if you use a left handed set up) using a bass drum pedal. As well as the size/material of the shell and the skins, the type of beater used on the bass drum pedal also has a big impact on the tone of a kick drum. Soft felt beaters produce a fuller sound where as hard wood beaters have more punch to them.


The Second Kick Drum

The Snare Drum

The second kick is notated on the low F note, on the bottom line, with a circular note head. Some drummers use two kick drums to allow them to use both feet on the bass drum. The second kick notation indicates a kick that is played with the left foot (or right foot on a left handed set up). The alternative to this is to use a 'double kick pedal' which allows two beaters to be used on one bass drum. In both forms the same notation is used.


The High Tom

The High Tom

The high tom is notated on the high E note, in the very top gap down, with a circular note head. High toms are usually between 8" and 12" in diameter and depth and can be tuned to an even wider variety of pitches. The high tom is used mainly in fills either as part of a roll around various drums or as melodic variation in a rhythmic pattern. They are sometimes used as decoration in grooves.


The Mid Tom

The Mid Tom

The mid tom is notated on the D note, on the second line down, with a circular note head. Mid toms are usually between 10" and 13" in diameter and depth and can be tuned to an even wider variety of pitches. The mid tom is used in the same way as a high tom and it adds another pitch to the kit.


The Floor Tom

The Floor Tom

The floor tom is notated on the low A note, in the second gap up, with a circular note head. Floor toms are usually between 14" and 16" in diameter and depth and are low pitched. The floor tom is used mainly in fills either as part of a roll around various drums or as melodic variation in a rhythmic pattern. They are sometimes used as a replacement for the right hand in a groove.


Additional Toms

Some drummers use more than 3 toms so we have accounted for this in our notation with 3 extra tom positions, each related to one of the above. In the rare occurrence that a drummer has more than 6 toms more notes are added on ledger lines at the top of the stave. As the note gets higher on the stave, so does its pitch on the kit.


The Additional High Tom

An Additional High Tom

The additional high tom is notated on the top F note, which is the top line, with a circular note head. The additional high tom will be higher pitched than a standard high tom.


The Additional Mid Tom

An Additional Mid Tom

The additional mid tom is notated on the B note, on the middle line with, a circular note head. The additional mid tom will be lower pitched than a standard mid tom, but higher pitched than a floor tom.


The Additional Floor Tom

An Additional Floor Tom

The additional floor tom is notated on the low G note, on the second line up, with a circular note head. The additional floor tom will be lower pitched than a standard floor tom.


The Rim Of A Drum

The Rim Of A Drum

The rim of a drum is notated on the high E note, in the top gap down, with a solid diamond note head. Unless otherwise specified, in drumscore.com transcriptions you can choose which drum you wish to play the rim of. You will most commonly see the rim of the drum as a replacement for the right hand in a groove and they are particularly common in transcriptions that are arrangements of sampled parts.