How to Read Drum Sheet Music – Your Crash Course

sheet music for drummers

Learning how to read sheet music can be a vital step to becoming a great drummer.

Despite what you might think:

It’s not difficult to learn how to read sheet music.

For drums, all you need is a grasp of the basics of the notation and a few examples to get started.

I’m a real ‘learn by doing’ guy, and many drummers are also. In this article, I’m going to show you by example rather than bombarding you with music theory.

You can learn the detail of the music theory later. Once you get a bit of a context of how to read sheet music, I think that’s half the battle already won.

Let’s get started with a quick example:

A Simple Rock Beat

Take this example (automatically starts at 1:24) of a basic rock beat. This piece is a great way to explain how drum sheet music works, as it uses a very simple rhythm with multiple different surfaces.

Quick explanation:

  • There are 4 beats in a bar here: This particular piece uses the same time signature as the vast majority of modern music, which is 4/4 – which means that there are 4 quarter notes per bar (more on that later). Many bars together are combined to make up a song.
  • The different drums and cymbals are placed in different vertical positions of the staff. The kick drum is at the bottom, the hi-hat is an X at the top, and the snare drum is above the middle. Drums are written as regular music notes, while cymbals are denoted as X’s.
  • In this piece, all the kick and snare hits are on the main beats (1, 2, 3, 4), but the hi-hats are also played evenly between each of these beats as well (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &). These are known as eighth notes, as they have half the value of quarter notes (so they occur twice as much in our piece).

It’s very useful to play along using a metronome when trying these out. This helps to ensure that you’re staying exactly on time, and it helps when you get into more complicated rhythms.

Mixing it up a little

Now let’s change it around a little. Take a look at the next beat in this video (automatically starts at 2:47), we’re simply moving the bass drum from the 3rd beat one eighth note forward.

This kick drum hit occurs exactly at the same time as our hi-hat hit in between the 3rd and 4th beat.

One little change to our bar has made all the difference. Feel free to try out different arrangements yourself. You can have snare drum, bass drum, and hi-hat hits all at once if you want.

drum sheet music
Drum sheet music is heavily used in drum corps, as their music pieces can be very intricate and use many different rudiments

I recommend that you start slow when doing this. This video is a great example, as it starts at 60 beats per minute, exactly one beat per second.

Once you increase the speed, these drum beats can get very cool.

I initially thought “What’s the point of sheet music for drummers” when I started to play drums. After a few drum lessons, I really started to see the difference.

Learning a basic rock beat is easy for drums, but it’s very easy to plateau with your learning development on drums.

One of my best and most important pieces of drum tuition was Dom Famularo’s drum tuition book ‘It’s your move’. I would have never been able to even read the instruction if I didn’t know how to read drum sheet music.

Drum sheet music is also widely used for the full drum set, covering every style of playing

Learning drum notation does the following:

  • It gives you a better understanding of music and rhythm.
  • Opens you to a whole new world of music tuition, books, and learning resources.
  • Enables you to read and play on the spot, meaning that you don’t have to learn large pieces of music for performances. This is great for session drummers, or for drummers in cover bands that need to refresh their memory on songs regularly.
  • It gives you more credibility as a musician.

Learning more of the basics

Take a look at this next video to keep learning the basics:

After this, I’ve listed some more quick resources that you should check out straight away. These include more resources to learn how to read sheet music for drummers, and links to free sheet music for download.


Rob from DrumsTheWord does a great job of explaining more of the basics here.

Free drum sheet music

There is a wealth of free drum transcriptions on the web. Here is a great list of options for you to get started right away without having to pay a dime:

Screenshot of – Quality free drum scores on popular rock and pop music. This is a great one for practicing drummers, or those playing in cover bands.

Screenshot of – is a fantastic resource for sheet music. I’ve linked to a page which includes a list of their free transcriptions. This includes a few cool metal tracks in here too, such as System Of A Down and Iron Maiden. Rock on!

Screenshot of – This site is only free for a few scores per day, but there is a great selection. It also includes a play-along element which is a great plus.

Screenshot of – A very decent selection of free drum sheet music

That should be enough free resources to keep you going! If you have any other links to add to the list then please write a comment below.

Learning How to Read Sheet Music for Drums – Final Thoughts

There are some many benefits to learning how to read sheet music. More and more musicians in modern days are self-thought. If you’re in this category, then good for you. However, you need to push yourself towards all of those important aspects of your music education to ensure that you keep learning and keep progressing.

My biggest takeaway is this: try to recognize when you stop progressing on drums. A few years ago, I was practicing hours a day, but I realized that I wasn’t putting quality time into my practice. I was just rehashing the same drum beats over and over again.

Learning how to read sheet music for drums can really put you in the zone of trying out new rhythms there and then. It’s a great learning adventure to pick up a drum tuition book and start playing rhythms.

Keep on learning and keep on rocking!


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