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8 Sight Reading Practice Tips for Drummers

May 23, 2018

8 Sight Reading Practice Tips for Drummers


As a drummer, you might be faced with sight reading as you practice and audition. Here, San Diego, CA teacher Maegan W. shares her tips for sight reading practice…


There are two types of drummers: those who read music, and ones who don’t. I have met so many talented drummers who have decided they can’t or won’t read music, and never even give themselves a chance to try. Charts and sight reading can be overwhelming, but is a useful skill, and one that is easy if you do it right.

Before we get into the tips, however, consider the mental aspect. If you say you can’t read music, then you can’t. Your mind will instantly close off from the possibility, making it something “out there” and impossible. Make a decision to allow yourself to learn to read, and you will create the proper mental state to do so.

Here are some tricks I use to make sight reading practice a lot easier:

  1. When I receive a chart, the first thing I do is look throughout the whole thing to see how many pages it is and what the tempo or tempos are (any time changes).
  2. I see if the feel or style is notated and if it changes throughout the song — and internalize it before trying to play anything.
  3. I then take a highlighter and get to work. I highlight all the “Road mapping,” codas, DS’s, alternate endings, and anything that tells me where to go next so that my eye can easily see it.
  4. I take a pencil or pen and circle important hits or fills, so I can be prepared for them as I am playing. Also, there will often be changes at the last minute that you will want to notate.
  5. Read through the piece. If you have enough time, visually read throughout the charts. Take all of the repeats, codas, and DS’s exactly as they are, so you’re more comfortable when you go to play it. Even Olympic athletes attribute a big portion of their success to mental practice and visualization.
  6. Catch what you can. You may not be able to play it perfectly, but make sure to get your priorities straight. The three most important elements to playing with a band as the drummer is to mark the form, keep the time/tempo, and set the feel for everyone. If nothing else, at least get these three right, then worry about hits, and fills, and extras.
  7. Remember… you’re not alone. The chart can be a distraction if you let it. Don’t forget to connect with the rest of the band and the audience if it’s that type of situation. This will help make everything flow together better and make the chart easier to absorb because you can hear musical cues from the band and create a synergy effect. If it’s a studio gig, you can still make sight reading easier by looking at the big picture. Play for the sound and the music, and everything will fall into place.
  8. Practice a bit every day. Ever hear of the compound effect? Like any other drumming rudiment, beat, and fill, sight reading is a skill that requires consistent practice. Try to read through as many different charts as you can get your hands on. Don’t worry about perfecting them all — just map them out, follow the form mentally, and try to play through them the best you can. The more you do this, the easier they will get, and eventually you’ll get to a point where there is nothing you haven’t seen, and you are prepared for everything.

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions, comments, and your own helpful pointers below.

Maegan-WMaegan W. teaches drums, songwriting, and more in San Diego, CA. She earned a degree in Percussion from the Musician’s Institute, and has been teaching private lessons since 2004.  Learn more about Maegan here!



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