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To Notate or not to Notate (Part 1)

Ever since I began teaching drums, I’ve always included drum notation alongside practical

playing. At first, this was a necessity for the organisation that I worked for, but when I

opened my own drum tutoring business in 2016, I soon realised that there was no other way

that I wanted to teach. So why is learning drum notation so important? It would be too easy

to try and lure students into learning sheet music by claiming that drum notation is ‘much

simpler’ than the sheet music of other instruments and, even though it probably is, there’s

something about this interpretation of drum music as ‘simplistic’ that both hides and highlights a much greater importance.






Drum notation is a foundational form of sheet music. I see the drums as the backbone of

music, the hard pillars of a song’s sturdy architecture, so naturally it follows that drum

notation is much the same. A drum kit is, for the most part, an ‘unpitched instrument’,

meaning that the role of the drums is (typically) not to contribute to the harmony or melody

of a song, but to provide rhythm, accents, and a fundamental tempo. When it comes to the

notation for pitched instruments however, the rhythmic elements of drum notation is still

present. It’s no coincidence then, that many of the students that I have taught learnt drums

alongside other instruments such as piano, guitar, trumpet, and others. Learning drum

notation gives students full access to understanding the rhythmic language of all musical

notation, while sparing them the need to simultaneously focus on pitched notes, scales,

harmonics, and other potential headaches; it allows them to focus almost completely on the

elements that make up the very backbone of music itself- its temporal form. This gives them a thorough understanding of music and music theory but, more than this, it provides them with an active way of applying this rhythmic theory in a pure, unencumbered fashion.


Even if a song has no drums or percussion, rhythm is always there. Present in the absence of its aural expression. If we view music as a language, then learning drums would be like

getting to know the rules of its grammar and word order, making it much easier to then take in the language’s vocabulary. First you build the structure, then you have a solid foundation upon which to finish the job. Drum notation is therefore crucial in reflecting the role of the drums among other instruments, a role that cannot and should not be ignored.

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