Playing & Reading the Bass Drum

The bass drum is played with the right foot on the bass drum pedal. Here is how four strokes are displayed on drum sheet music.

bass drum How to read drum notes for beginners

Like the snare drum, this notation shows a simple note. However, the position is in the bottom space of the measure. That is what indicates this note is to be played with on the bass drum.>

Some drum sets include two bass drums or double pedals that allow for both feet to operate the same bass drum. In either case, drum notation has a way of indicating a note that is to be played with the “left” foot on a second bass drum pedal.

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As you can see, this second bass drum cymbal is on an imaginary line below the measure. It may seem a little confusion, but don’t worry – this is very rarely seen in beginner to intermediate drum lesson material. By the time you need to use it – reading most drum sheet music will be second nature to you.

Playing & Reading the Tom Toms

Playing the toms is probably the most difficult part of drum notation to sight read. However, once you understand the three simple symbols, you will be well on your way to developing this important ability. The smallest tom (aka “hi-tom”) is indicated with this symbol.

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All the tom-toms are to be played with a drumstick hitting the center of the drumhead. This produces the clearest tone from the drum, and with practice, will ensure you don’t hit the rim of the drum.

The second tom (aka “mid-tom”) is marked with the same note, but in the second gap.

reading drum music

And finally, the last tom (aka “low-tom”) is indicated with a note in the third gap.

How to read drum notes for beginners low tom

Remember, the snare is on the middle line, and then ALL toms are in gaps between lines. This is what makes it easier to differentiate between playing the snare or toms. Keep that in mind when playing fills, and you will have a much easier time sight reading.

Note: Some drum sets have more than three toms. Unfortunately, standard drum notation does not have symbols for these additional drums. However, you can feel free to be creative with most tom tom patterns, and break them up over whatever drums you want. Perhaps for one fill you can use the symbols to indicate toms one, two, and three. Then, for a second fill – use them to indicate toms one, three, and five (all depending on your set).

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