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Like all musical instruments, drums can have musical score written for them. This is vital in an orchestra for example where a musical piece may be quite some length and comprise 40 plus instruments. Musical score will be written for each instrument to show not only the notes being played but rests and periods of rest when a particular instrument is not being played.

The following is a summary of the basic elements that make up a piece of written drum music. 


The staff consists of five parallel lines on which the musical notes are written. All the notes are either on a line or in a space between the lines.

Drum clef

The drum clef denotes that the musical piece is not written for a pitched instrument. This means that the position of the note on the staff indicates the drum, cymbal, or other percussion instrument played. This differs from conventional music score in that each line and space in a staff has a note value. Drum music was and can still be found written under the bass clef. 

Time signature

The time signature indicates the value of the notes and quantity of the count within each bar measure. The top number indicates the number of beats in a bar measure. The bottom note indicates the value of the notes in each bar measure.

The above example of 4/4 means that the value of the notes written in each bar will be quarter notes and there will be 4 of them per bar. The count for this would be 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. 
3/4 for example will mean that the note value in each bar will be quarter notes but there will only be 3 of them per bar. The count for this would be 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 etc.

You may see a piece of music written that has a 'C' in place of the time signature. This refers to 'common' time or 4/4.
Note values

If you accept that the whole of anything is one and that one can then be cut in half and half again, this will simplify the understanding of basic note construction. It is just basic fractions.

For ease of explanation we will look at 4/4 timing to explain the note values.

4/4 timing means that there are 4 quarter notes (or beats) played in each bar. The top or first number, 4, is the number of beats counted in each bar. The bottom or second number (in this case, 4) is the value of those beats.

For the purposes of beginner training, we will concentrate on notes only up to 1/8 in value.

Take one bar as being 1 whole note and cut it in half you get 2 halves or 2 half notes. Cut this in half again and you get 4 quarter notes. Half again and you get 8 eighth notes etc. If you set a constant tempo for the passage of music, you would play four times as many quarter notes in the same time it would take to play one whole note.


When you are learning to read and play drums, counting is of critical value. 

While you are learning and practicing, it is an important advantage to count aloud.

For quarter notes count:    1 2 3 4.
Eighth notes count:          1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.
Sixteenth notes:              1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a.


A good thing to remember is that the notes you play are important but the notes you do not play are just as important. This is where 'rests' come into play.

A rest is a note that is not played. The rest however takes the same time space as a note. In the above quarter note example, you would count 1, 2, 3, 4 but play 1, 2, 3, and rest on the 4.

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