How to Read Drum Tabs – Quick Start Guide

Drum tabs are a great way to quickly figure out how to play parts to drum songs you love. This article will teach you what you need to know to get started.

Drum tabs are very useful for beginners. Though it’s always recommended to learn how to read drum sheet music as soon as you can, as this is a much more structured and superior method.

If you’re looking to get some Drum Tabs for songs you like, check out the drums section of Ultimate Tabs, as they have thousands available for you to download and print for free.

We have included some small examples from Ultimate Tabs below and we show you how to read them.

How Drum Tabs are Structured

Drum tabs horizontally represent time and vertically represents the drum or cymbal being played.

Most music is in 4/4 time, and most tabs are arranged with 16 ‘-‘ symbols that denote each 16th note.

It’s best to count this out loud when playing 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a

16 notes in this case equals one bar. Each Bar is separated with the | symbol.

The far left of the drum tab will usually contain letters that denote which drum or cymbal is being played. (The example below is part of the drum tab to ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC, this was part of the tab made by Jeremy Ferwerda, get the full drum tab here for free).

In this example,

C = Crash Cymbal
H = Hi-Hat
S = Snare Drum
B = Bass Drum

On the ‘timeline’, ‘o’ usually means a drum, and ‘x’ means a cymbal. These are sometimes capitalized to denote an accent or stronger hit.

In this example below, the person that tabbed it makes it easier by including the timing below, this is not always present.


You can listen to the official song below. Read the drum tab above as you are listening, this will quickly help you understand how they work. (Notice the ‘repeat 1x’ at the top of the second bar, which denotes that you should play that part again before moving onto the next bar).

Here is another example of a part of the tab of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’. Here, instead of ‘o’, the tabber has decided to notate the drums with the drum’s first letter instead.


As you can see, drum tabs are informal and not always structured in the same way.

The drum and cymbal names can vary, e.g:

Ride: R or Rd
Crash: C or Cr
High Tom: St (small tom) or T1 (tom 1)
Medium Tom: Mt or T2
Floor Tom: Ft or T3
Hi-Hat: H or Hh (‘x’ and ‘o’ can mean closed and open hats respectively)
Snare Drum: S or Sd
Bass drum: B or Bd

Repeating Bars

Repeated bars is commonly notated above the rest of the tab information, e.g. ‘repeat x7’ means that this tab should be repeated 7 times before moving onto the next bar.

Drum Tab Legends

Drum Tabs sometimes contain a ‘legend’ at the top which tell you what means what. Either way, they are usually pretty easy to figure out.

For the Hotel California Drum Tab, the tabber decided to go a bit more detailed and include some extra information regarding dynamics.


How do Drum Tabs Compare to Sheet Music?

Sheet music is far better than drum tabs. They are much more structured and are much easier to read once you get the hang of them.

Tabs often require you to study them a bit before playing, particularly as the structure is different for them.

If you want to become a skilled drummer, learning how to read sheet music is a massive advantage. However, drum tabs can be very fun and handy, particularly if you can’t find sheet music for your song.

Quickly Reading Drum Tabs

Reading drum tabs can be a little slow at the start. This is the same for any new skill. You will get a lot faster once you give it some practice time.


We hope that’s shed some light on how to read drum tabs. They are very quick to get up and running with. Once you know where each drum and cymbal is on the tab, then it’s just a case of counting your notes and slowly going through the drum tab.

Leave a Comment