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Drum Notation

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  • Drum Notation

    I have a few questions on various drum notation - see attached. I realize there is no defined standard (which would be easier if there was).


    Attached Files
    Last edited by EssKayKay; 05-14-15, 09:32 PM.

  • #2
    1. Just notes. (most likely)
    2. Timing. (helps, instead of writing each line separate)
    3. Crosstick.
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    • #3
      You're right in that there isn't really a standard as such for drum music, so it's a bit annoying. But you can usually tell what things mean by how stuff is used.

      1. Those slanted lines are probably just denoting timing. You'll notice the word "fill" above that line, which indicates that you can probably just ad-lib that part (Fill/Phil is a drummer's best friend! ). Since they happen on a specific line on the staff though, with an accent above some of them to boot, they might also be indicating a specific instrument be played (cowbell?). I'd need to see the full score sheet to get a better idea.

      2. The rising and falling lines you've circled don't mean much of anything really. Those are quavers and semiquavers that are grouped together and that's done using those lines. If the notes go up or down, then those lines will usually be slanted up or down like that. The straight line you pointed out is because those are all quavers that are the same note. The notes themselves don't go up or down there, so the line stays horizontal. Semiquavers (the double lined notes) are twice as fast as quavers (the single lined notes).

      3. That last one is a bit weird as they seem to have combined two things. The circle around the note usually means cross-stick, but it's usually a standard note - that note is an X which doesn't make much sense as X's are used to denote cymbals, but it doesn't make any sense to cross-stick a cymbal. This is why arrangers need to provide a legend on the music people! Without any further context I can only guess that it's supposed to mean cross-stick or a rimshot.


      • #4

        Got it -- thanks guys,


        • #5
          1. Again, it is simple notation. Sometimes, drum notation is written like that. In this case, it is sixteenths, with specific accents. "How" or "Where" it is played is optional.
          2. Composers tie lines together for phrasing. It aids in sight reading. Imagin if each line was written separately. Wouldn't be as easy to read, would it? Sometimes, these will not "slant", but will still be written the same. The slant means nothing.
          3. Trust me. It's a crossstick. I saw plenty of them in college.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by EssKayKay View Post
            So if I understand this correctly –

            [LIST=1][*]The slant lines mean “play a fill here”. However, I’ve seen slant lines on other sheets where there are only one or two, not a grouping.
            If there's only one or two it can sometimes mean "repeat the previous bar", although there usually dots on either side of them too in that case (like what you see in the first bar of the second line).

            Originally posted by Alan VEX View Post
            3. Trust me. It's a crossstick. I saw plenty of them in college.
            Last edited by White_Pointer; 05-15-15, 05:36 PM.


            • #7
              Originally posted by White_Pointer View Post
              . . . it's really annoying that there isn't a fully accepted standard.
              I guess this is what I was wondering/questioning. I've even seen the drums represented on different staff lines. That surely doesn't happen with musical notes.
              Last edited by EssKayKay; 05-15-15, 08:48 PM.


              • #8
                Originally posted by White_Pointer View Post

                See I've never seen cross-stick denoted like that. I've most often seen it as a standard crotchet note with a circle around it (as per Norman Weinberg’s Guide to Standardised Drumset Notation), NEVER an X with a circle around it. X's should only be used to denote cymbals IMO, (I've seen circled X's to mean to hit the bell of the cymbal, for instance) but it's really annoying that there isn't a fully accepted standard.
                I've seen plenty, but on very old music. The circle represents the rim. The X represents the crossstick itself. In modern music, they just use the X. In drum corp, they use the circle to represent a rimshot. Most likely, this is notation written by someone of a younger generation that wanted to distinguish the difference from the drum corp version. It could very well mean with the snare thrown off. It could very wel mean a crossstick from rim to rim. (yea, that's actually a thing) If I were reading this "ballad", I would interpret it based on what I was accompaning, and do what's appropriate. This is a 12 R&B, so I'm guessing a simple crossstick is most likely appropriate.
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                • #9
                  Ess, page 25 of this PDF explains a rhythmic fill versus a free fill: http://www.propercussion.org/filer/notation.pdf
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                  • #10
                    Thank you Allan - much appreciated article.


                    • #11
                      Just for reference, DRUM! magazine uses a single X on the snare line to denote a rim click.
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                      • #12

                        Unfortunately, the standards for drum notation aren't really standards. Many people, institutions, and composers use different standards. However, there are common notation symbols used frequently to mean the same thing, such as "x" and "/" heads instead of actual note heads, accent marks, shorthand slants, slur and trill marks, etc. As to your questions, here we go:

                        1.) What do the slanted lines represent?
                        Typically, in jazz and other kinds of charts, slash lines are a shorthand way of indicating a time value in the base of the time signature. Thus, for a chart all in 4/4, you might see bars like this: | / / / / | There are no stems on each note, just the slants. This means each beat is a quarter note, as denoted by the 4/4 time signature. Typically, chord symbols are written above the beat (i.e. the slash) on which they occur. For drummers, if no actual drum pattern is written, usually a feel is suggested in text, somewhere near the top of the chart. For example, you might see "Rock Shuffle", so you'd play something like that.

                        The use of text, such as "FILL" is common, and, again, you typically see something this "| / / / / |", with the text "FILL" written above. You are free to do what you want here within the style of the music.

                        The specific example you've given has actual timing values attached to the slashes. Also, accent marks are present. Thus, despite the presence of the "FILL" marker, this does not mean "play whatever you like". Rather, the rhythm and accents outline a figure everyone plays together and/or a specific figure the composer wants played. This notation means you have freedom to chose the voicing (i.e. which drums are played), but *must* play the rhythm as written.

                        Some drummers might play the rhythm while adding additional notes (ghost notes) between the written notes. This can work, but I wouldn't do that here. The figure is already quite busy and is likely an ensemble figure, so I'd want to sync cleanly with the ensemble. Therefore, if taking any liberty, I'd be tempted to leave notes out (creating space and clarity), while making sure to catch all accented notes. Or, play all unaccented notes as ghost notes with the accented notes as written, thus creating greater contrast.

                        2.) What do the rising/falling lines represent?
                        In this context, the rising/falling note beams represent three things: timing, instrument, and grouping.

                        Notes that share the same beam style all have the same rhythmic value. In the example you've given, the double beam indicates the notes are sixteenth notes. Watch carefully though because notes connected by beams may not all have the same beam style. For example, double beams may connect some of the notes whereas others may have only a single beam. This indicates a group that includes sixteenth and eighth notes. Just as individual notes may use one or more flags to indicate timing value, the number of beams connecting a pair of notes indicates the timing between the notes. Instead of using beams, one can write the same figures using notes with separate stems and flags, but this takes up more space and doesn't show grouping.

                        A rising/falling beam generally indicates that a figure contains multiple instruments or pitches. (i.e. snare and hi-hat; or snare, hi-hat, and bell; or different notes on a tuned instrument.) The reason the beams rise or fall is that instruments are placed on different lines and spaces of the staff. The direction of the beam is the direction of the majority of the notes in a figure. Thus, if the notes in a figure generally move upward, the beam slants upward, even if a few of the notes end downward. The reverse is also true. If the notes in a figure generally move downward, the beam slants downward, even if a few of the notes end upward.

                        Beam direction is not an absolute indication of instrument or pitch. Rather, the direction is a suggestion, used by composers, to aid musicians in reading. Thus, rising, falling, and straight beams are not absolute indications of the change or lack of change in instruments or pitch. For example, when the instruments are close together on the staff, the beam of a given figure is straight, even though the figure contains multiple instruments. Similarly, dependent on context, beam direction is used for different purposes, such as indicating all notes that share a given vowel sound. Another anomaly, instruments may be far apart on the staff (such as bass drum, floor tom, snare drum, and ride cymbal) and yet when they all play the same rhythm (such as an eighth note build in a 4/4 rock chart), the beams connecting the notes are perfectly straight. This may all seem a bit confusing and random, but it does make sense once you get the hang of the different contexts and usages!

                        One can write figures without beams by using individual, flagged notes and applying a long curve under the notes to indicate grouping. The curve looks similar to a slur mark, but it is in fact a grouping or figure mark. So, I ask the question "why use beams?" Meaning... why join notes together with beams? Beams identify a note as belonging to a group or figure without using explicit grouping marks. In essence, beams are a shorthand way of notating groups of notes and are more compact and sometimes clearer to read than explicit grouping. In drum charts, one rarely sees explicit group marks unless the figure is very out of the ordinary. Sometimes multiple sets of beamed notes are included in an explicit group mark, in which case one has groups within groups.

                        The discussion thus far provokes another question. Why use groups at all? Groups generally aid with readability and help establish the lilt (the way) in which notes are played.

                        One use of groups is to outline a fundamental beat within a subdivision. For example, in 12/8 time, the pulse can be felt in four strong beats, each representing a dotted quarter note. The next subdivision down, the eighth note, fits into the bar in four groups of three notes (i.e. three eighth notes for each of the four dotted quarter notes). Thus, in 12/8 time, when eighth notes are written, it is common to see them grouped into four, three note groupings.

                        12/8 time. Grouped eighth notes outline four strong beats.

                        Another use of beams is to indicate that notes share the same rhythm. Consider the sixteenth note figure you circled. What happens if you want to add a floor tom played simultaneously with the first two snare drum notes? When joining beams, one simply extends the beams and adds the note heads. Like this:

                        Adding floor tom notes using beams.

                        Without beams, you'd need to write a separate line for the floor tom, as follows:

                        Adding floor tom notes as a separate rhythmic line.

                        To accommodate three, rhythmically individual lines, I expanded the staff to 7 lines. And, of course, I had to write the entire floor tom part, including extra rests and such. That's a lot of extra notation simply to add two floor tom notes! It's also harder to read than the joined beams example. Most importantly, the floor tom part isn't a third, rhythmically individual line - I chose to treat it this way for this example, but it's actuality just an embellishment (in polyphony) of the rhythm being played.

                        One frequently writes as many rhythmically individual lines as needed. This is required when parts have different rhythms, but it may be done for other reasons, such as when a specific rhythm needs to stand out or when certain limbs participate in a part. Foot patterns on bass drum and hi-hat are examples. Bell, clave, and cascara patterns are more examples. Ostinato figures are yet another example.

                        Notes in a group may or may not all share the same rhythmic value. If all the notes in a group share the same beam style, then all notes have the same rhythmic value. However, if the beam style changes from note to note, the rhythmic value changes accordingly. Here's an example where some of the notes within groups have different rhythmic values.

                        Groups containing dissimilar and similar rhythmic values.
                        (Due to the VDrums forum's ridiculously buggy, stupidly phucking limited software, I had to put this figure in a separate post. See additional post, below, for the diagram.)

                        Here's an example of one of my own stylistic choices. Whenever I transcribe a rock pattern and want the emphasis on the quarter note, I group everything by the quarter note. Therefore, when adding an eighth note hi-hat pattern, I write the eighth notes as joined pairs, leaving space between each pair such that the quarter note grouping is emphasized. In this instance, accents on the first note of each eighth note pair further emphasize the quarter note lilt in the groove.

                        Quarter note grouping.

                        Contrast this with your example, shown below. The bar is divided in two. The first half contains a bass drum, snare drum, and hi-hat pattern that occupies two beats. The four hi-hat notes are grouped together to indicate a continuous pattern for that portion of the bar. The second half contains a semi-linear figure between snare drum, hi-hat, and bass drum. The lead voice changes and the style of playing changes, and this is why these two beats are delineated on their own. One could easily write this same bar many different ways, but this is how I interpret the notation choices made here.

                        Bar divided into two, two-beat halves.

                        3.) What does the "x" and circle on the snare line represent?
                        As others have answered, this is cross-stick or snare drum played with an embellishment, such as laying a small tambourine or splash cymbal on the drum. This particular groove is in 12/8 and the text says "R&B Ballad (dotted quarter note = 66)", a typical situation where the cross-stick is played.
                        Last edited by TangTheHump; 05-17-15, 11:30 AM.


                        • #13
                          Excellent Tang, thank you very much for the detail - much appreciated, and believe it or not, for the most part this dummy actually understood what you where saying. Again, my thanks to all.


                          • #14

                            Here is the missing diagram. I'll repeat the context so it makes sense, as follows:

                            Notes in a group may or may not all share the same rhythmic value. If all the notes in a group share the same beam style, then all notes have the same rhythmic value. However, if the beam style changes from note to note, the rhythmic value changes accordingly. Here's an example where some of the notes within groups have different rhythmic values.

                            Groups containing dissimilar and similar rhythmic values.


                            • #15

                              You are most welcome. I learned quite a bit during this discussion, too. This is stuff I learned "in the field", not in music school, so I often find gaps in my knowledge. I find threads like this especially helpful because they get people talking about stuff that actually matters. Rarely have I encountered a bandleader who cares about the gear I bring. But, I most certainly get dirty looks from bandleaders if I miss important figures in a chart!

                              Since my initial post, I corrected the diagram "Adding floor tom notes as a separate rhythmic line". Accidentally, I wrote the floor tom notes as eighth notes (instead of sixteenth notes) and thus both the notes and following rests were incorrect. They are correct now. :-)