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Learn to Play Drums/Drum Tabs

< Learn to Play Drums

Drum music is written down in one of two forms: as tablature, or in musical notation. The two forms are basically the same, and are fairly easily interchangable. The major difference is that in musical notation, rest symbols are used to denote timing, while in tabs, the spacing is used. In both, each individual instrument is written on own line, although sometimes multiple similar instruments, like cymbals, are written on the same line with different symbols. Most instruments can have multiple symbols denoting different ways to play them (for instance, on the hi-hat line, "o" commonly means open, which "x" means closed).

Since Wikibooks doesn't support a musical stave feature, most lessons in this book will be written in tabs.

An example would be as follows


The above is a basic 4/4 drum beat, with the bass on counts one and three, the snare on counts two and four, the hi-hat on counts one, two, three, and four, and a hi-hat accent on the "and" of count four.


Different tab authors use different symbols for notation. You just have to be careful to read the specs at the start. And if you're playing a song you know, listen!

The symbols commonly used in this book are as follows:

Cymbal = X
Closed hi-hat (HH) = x 
Open hi-hat (HH) = o
Tom 1 (T1) = o
Snare (Sn) = o
Tom 2 (T2) = o
Tom 3 (T3) = o
Bass Drum (BD) = o

There are many types of cymbal, common notation will include

Crash (Cr) = X
Ride (Rd) = ^

Other notationEdit

If there are letters like "R" or "L" below the tab it is to indicate which hand to use on the note above it.


A good way to learn timing is to count as you play. For standard rock beats, you are playing 4 beats (quarter notes) per bar. You count on these notes. You may also be playing 8th notes in between, as in the first example. For 8ths, you usually count "and". Here's the first example again, with counting:

   1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &

You can also count 16ths in between the quarters and 8ths. You'd usually count this like "one-ee-and-ah-two-ee-and-ah...", or "1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a". For some styles, you'll be playing 3/4, in which case you will only could to 3 in each bar: "1 and 2 and 3 and 1...". For others, you'll be playing 4/4, but instead of playing 8ths, you'll play triplets (or 12ths). You can count 12ths like "One and ah Two and ah Three and ah Four and ah", or "1&a2&a3&a4&a".

You can play along with a metronome to keep good timing. Timing is an extremely key factor in playing drums. To help build speed, play each lesson at a comfortable tempo until you are become proficient, and then increase the speed of the metronome by an amount that is somewhat challenging. For endurance, play at a moderately slow tempo (for example, 16ths at 100bpm) for a set amount of time. Discipline is also a key factor.

When learning beats, breaks down each part of the beat and plays it separately, for example playing only the hi-hat, then only the snare, then only the bass drum, and then bringing in another part, for example both hi-hat and snare, or hi-hat and bass drum, or only snare and bass drum, and then all the parts together.

Learn to Play Drums
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