The Ultimate Guide to Drum Sheet Music

The Ultimate Guide to Drum Sheet MusicThink drummers don’t need to read music? Think again! Drum sheet music is a great way to learn your favorite beats and write things out so you will remember them later.

Drum sheet music is written on the same five line staff as traditional music. At the beginning of the piece, you’ll see the time signature. Written like a fraction (4/4 or 7/8, for example), the time signature lets you know how many beats to play in each measure and what the rhythm should be. You should also see the number of beats per minute above the staff, near the time signature. The beats per minute lets you know how quickly or slowly to play the beat.

Playing the Bass Drum

The bass drum, also known as the kick drum, is played by pressing a pedal with your right foot. Bass drum beats are noted in the first space on the staff as shown below:

drum sheet music bass drum

For the hard rockers out there playing double bass drums, the second bass drum is shown on an imaginary line below the staff, like this:

drum sheet music double bass

Playing the Toms

Your three toms are written in the spaces above the bass drum. Play each tom by striking the drum in the center of the head with your stick. Avoid striking the rim of the drum as much as possible. The low tom is written in the second space, as seen in the example below:

drum sheet music low tom

Your mid-range tom, or mid tom, is shown as a note in the third space, as on the staff below:

drum sheet music mid tom

Finally, the highest pitched tom, or hi tom, fills the top space on the staff.

drum sheet music hi tom

Playing the Snare Drum

The snare drum’s snappy sound is essential for rock, pop, and jazz beats. You’ll see the snare show up on the third line of the staff, as in the example below:

drum sheet music snare

If you’re familiar with the cross-sticking technique on the snare drum, you may see that method notated as on the staff below:

drum sheet music snare cross stick

Playing the Hi Hat

You will often use the hi hat to keep time in rock and jazz beats. Hold the hi hat cymbals closed by using the pedal with your left foot and strike the cymbal with your stick. The hi hat shows up in the space above the staff, like in the example below:

drum sheet music hi hat

You can also play the hi hat by opening and closing it with your left foot. When a piece calls for you to play the hi hat with your foot, it will appear as on the staff below:

drum sheet music hi hat foot

Playing the Ride Cymbal

Like the hi hat, the ride cymbal is commonly used in rock and pop beats to keep time. You’ll see the ride cymbal appear on an imaginary line above the staff, as in the example below:

drum sheet music ride symbol


Reading Drum Sheet Music

Now that you’re familiar with all the pieces of the sheet music puzzle, let’s put them together and do some reading! This video from Android drum app Adictum shows a piece of sheet music and plays the accompanying drum sounds. Follow along and practice recognizing the notes and drum sounds.

Ready to try playing drum sheet music on your own? Online Drummer is a great resource for finding drum music. They offer a wide variety of free and paid sheet music, as well as some video tutorials.

View all Free Sheet Music Resources.

You might also like…
5 No-Nonsense Tips for Drum Practice
Be a Musician, Not a Drummer – Part 1
Drum Exercise: Grooving with Different Genres and Styles

-Megan L. TakeLessons Staff Member and Blogger
Photo by jblaha


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