Reading Drum Tabs 101

Reading drum tabs is easy and I'm going to show you just how easy it is.

Drum transcriptions, also called drum tablature or simply drum tab, are a handy way to not only learn a drum part from a song, but also to write down exactly what you played on something you have created.

Reading drum tabs is not as difficult as you might think and this article will show you how.

Why Learn To Read and Write Drum Tabs?

Say you are in the midst of a long songwriting session where you have come up with multiple parts.

You could try to come back to it later and you may remember exactly what you played, but chances are higher that you will have forgotten exactly what it is you had played and you will waste time trying to get it down again.

If you write out a basic drum tab after coming up with a piece of music, you can give it a look when you come back to play again and know exactly what you were playing before.


Deciphering the Code

drum tab

The above example of drum tab might look a bit daunting at first but if we break it down and tackle each symbol one by one then before you know it you will be reading drum tabs like a pro.

There are several different letters, numbers, and symbols used in drum tab. At first glance, they may seem overwhelming. However, it is all quite simple once you dive into it.

So, let us look at what everything means. First up, let's discuss what the notations for a particular piece of the drum set are.

As you can see, these are all very simple and you will have them memorized in no time. These codes will be seen to the left of the staff when looking at drum tab.

Numbers and symbols above the staff denote the beat. For example, if you were writing or reading for something with 16th notes, it would read 1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a along the top of the staff. Then the symbols beneath would correspond to hitting on whatever particular beat it fell under.

Finally, when it comes to reading drum tabs there are symbols telling you how to strike the drums and cymbals respectively.

For drums, the symbols are:

In regards to striking the cymbals, the symbols are:

So, by looking at the drum tab and seeing to the left what drum or cymbal to strike, seeing the symbols on the staff telling you how to strike, and looking at the top for where in the beat the strike should fall, you can translate what you are reading to what you are playing, or vice versa. It really is quite simple reading drum tabs.

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