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How To Read Drum Tabs

Reading Drum Tabs

A ‘Drum tablature‘, also known as ‘drum tab’ is a tablature in use for drums. To read drum tabs follow the example below:

 H |-xxxxx-x|xxxxxxxx|-xxxxxxx|xxxxxxxx|-|
 S |--oo--o-|--oo--o-|--oo--o-|--oo--o-|-|
 B |o---o---|o---o---|o---o---|o---o---|o|
 CC|-Crash Cymbal----|
 B |-Bass-Drum-------|

Some alternative lines:

 S |-Snare-drum---------|
 T2|-Tom-2-(low/mid-tom)| Tom 1, Tom 2 etc. can be continued to as many toms as you have.
 F |-Floor-Tom----------|

Generally there will not be that many lines during verses; the above is more common during fills. For example in verse there may be only 3 lines (bass, snare, and HH), while during chorus HH is replaced with RD, symbolizing a ride cymbal. Also, what to use to symbolize the drum can vary from tab to tab (eg. using ‘t’ for LT).

Additionally, there are symbols to depict how the tabs should be played:


 |-x-| Strike Cymbal or Hi-Hat
 |-X-| Strike Loose Hi-Hat, or hit Crash Hard
 |-o-| Open High Hat
 |-#-| Choke Cymbal (Grab Cymbal With Hand After Striking It)
 |-s-| Splash Cymbal
 |-c-| China Cymbal
 |-b-| Bell of Ride
 |-x-| Click Hi-Hat With Foot  


 |-o-| Strike
 |-O-| Accent
 |-g-| Ghost Note 
 |-f-| [[Flam]]  
 |-d-| Drag
 |-b-| Soft One-Handed Roll
 |-B-| Accented One-Handed Roll
 |-@-| Snare Rim

Unlike guitar tabs which often fail to accurately represent timing information, drum tabs usually describe timing information very accurately.

Drum Notation

Notation of percussion instruments

Percussion notation conventions are varied because of the wide range of percussion instruments. Percussion instruments are generally grouped into two categories: pitched and non-pitched. The notation of non-pitched percussion instruments is the more problematic and less standardized. Non-pitched percussion notation on a conventional staff once commonly employed the bass clef, but a neutral staff of two parallel vertical lines is usually preferred now. In drum tabs, it is usual to label each instrument and technique the first time it is introduced, or to add an explanatory footnote, to clarify certain notes in a tab. Below is an example of drum set notation (aka drum tabs):


Drum Notation


Drum Cymbal Notation

Dynamic accents

Accents Notation

How to Read Drum Tabs Quick Start Tutorial

Drum Notation (or Tabs) are represented in lines that are called measure lines or bar lines, and the space between any two of these vertical lines is called a measure or a bar. The notes and rests will now be seen within a measure, like words in a sentence. A drum part (or pattern, as you’ll sometimes hear it called by drummers) is made up of a measure or a group of measures, like sentences in a paragraph.


Working with measures in drum tabs is very important when discussing specific parts of songs. You can count measures in a pattern or song and name them according to their corresponding numbers. For example, you can now refer to “the third measure’ or “measure 312,” and so on. Measures themselves vary in length according to rules that are set down at the beginning of a piece of music, called a time signature. A time signature looks like a fraction. Let’s look at a time signature:

time signature

This time signature is called four-four and is the most common for most of the styles of music that you’re likely to want to play. The top number of the time signature tells you how many beats there are in a measure. A beat is simply the musical term for a drum tabs part. All the parts of a measure are equal in length of time, kind of like how a football game has four quarters that are all of an equal time length. You will now also be able to name the beats of a measure with numbers in order. For example, if you want to talk about the third part of a measure, you would say “beat three.” The bottom number of the time signature tells you what kind of note will equal the length of one beat-the number four in this case, indicating a quarter note.

quarter note

So, the two important bits of information that a time signature of 4/4 tells you is that there will be four beats per measure (the top four of the fraction) and that a quarter note will equal one beat (the bottom four of the fraction). So, a measure of 4/4 with four quarter notes in it looks like drum tabs below:

quarter notes

You can fit only four quarter notes in a measure of 4/4, and since two times four is eight, you can fit eight eighth notes in a measure of 4/4, that’s why it’s called an eighth note. (drum tabs example below)

8 eighth notes

You can give each eighth note its own name, just like you did earlier with quarter notes. However, instead of naming each eighth note in a measure with its own number (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), we will name them like you see in below picture, using the symbol + in between each number (1+2+3+4+).

8 eight notes continued

You pronounce the + symbol as the word “and.” So, if you wanted to count out the eight notes in a measure, you would say “one-and-two-and-three- and-four-and.” Eighth notes are played twice as fast as quarter notes. Let’s use a metronome to demonstrate this. Take your metronome and set it at 66. (The numbers on your metronome represent tempo, the musical term for the speed at which you’ll play something. The number 66 means that you’ll play something at 66 BPM, or 66 beats per minute.) Listen to the metronome click at 66 BPM, and imagine that each click is a quarter note.

Count Along the Drum Tabs You Are Reading

Now, count along to the clicks from one to four, and then back through one to four again, and so on, like this: One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. This represents the speed at which quarter notes are played at this tempo. So, if you want to figure out how eighth notes would sound at this tempo, all you have to do is continue to count from one to four at the same speed as you did earlier, and simply add the word “and” between each number, like this: One and two and three and four and one and two and three and four and. This is how eight notes will sound at this tempo.

Discuss How to Read Drum Tabs

Now you can discuss how to read drum tabs with other drummers in reading drum tabs discussion group

drum_techniuqes/reading_drum_tabs.txt · Last modified: 2008/12/11 22:33 by PASHA
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