I have been playing Drums for 4 years or so now and I have never understood tabs for them is there an easy way to read and write them? Or is it down to personal preference? Also any hints and tips on where to start with drum tabs would be much appreciated :)

  • 1
    I'm curious to see what you mean by "drum tab" (you mean like guitar tabs or just the generic music notation for drums ?)... The only "drum tab" I know is the Guitar Pro 5 notation and it's more a "MIDI signals" tab than really a music indication... If you're referring to the "standard" drum notation, there are plenty of resources on the Internet, like the wikipedia article linked by Chochos.
    – Julien N
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 13:35
  • Im just confused as to which way to read them and like if theres any variation in the way they are written from drummer to drummer and If I know how to write them I would be able to customize the tabs to my own understanding. Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 13:41

5 Answers 5


Drum tabs exist and are distinct from standard musical notation for drums. Here's a one bar example of drum tab for a simple beat:

HH |x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-|
SD |----o-------o---|
BD |o-------o-o-----|
..... 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

(the above would have looked better if preformatted text would cooperate)

HH |x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-|  
SD |----o-------o---|  
BD |o-------o-o-----|  
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  

e.g., 8th notes on the hi-hat, snare on 2 and 4, kick on 1, 3 and "3 and".

You might want to look into an iPhone/iPad app called DrumStudio. It comes with some sample drum tab, which you can see and listen to, and it includes a drum tab editor which allows you to can write your own tab and it will play it. I highly recommend it - my students use it too.

Disclaimers: I am not affiliated with DrumStudio or RollerChimp in any way - I'm just a happy user. Your mileage may vary, deuces are wild, etc.

  • YES! this is exactly what i was looking for :) Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 19:12

Here is the notation used by Guitar Pro 6 : GP6 Drum notation

They claim that they use a standard notation (standard called Berkeley). There doesn't seem to be a universal standard (another common one is called Agostini). I use GP notation in my tabs and find it quite useful, but I'm not a drummer so I don't know if it is easy to read while playing.

I reference GP6 as this is the only tab editor I ever used. My suggestion would be to check how each of the most used music notation software (Guitar Pro, Sibelus, Finale, MuseScore...) are displaying drum notation and use the one you prefer (they should be quite similar).

And for the rhythm information, it is exactly the same as the standard music notation. The staff conveys at least 2 pieces of information : the "note" and its "value". The note indicate what you are playing, the value indicates the duration. For drums, this information indicates more the time between 2 hits, as most of the "notes" don't hold (but rests can be useful for cymbals).
You can check this short tutorial for guitar pro, to see what I mean.

Here is an example of the intro of Metallica's Seek & Destroy, using the above notation : enter image description here

  • Thank you i'll check this out but I don't seem to see any indication of time structure or tempo on there I guess it would be quite hard to note timing and stuff like that in a written format thanks for the help :) Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 15:49
  • You're right, I added a paragraph about timing, I didn't mention it because it seemed obvious to me, but I guess it's not :). I'll submit an example of a drum track as soon as I get home.
    – Julien N
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 16:07
  • have to say brilliant choice of song :P Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 21:30

Here is an image that shows which instrument is notated on which line of the system:

enter image description here


Ted Reed's book "Progressive Steps to Syncopation" is aimed at drummers who want to acquire or improve music reading skills. It's meant to be used with an instructor if possible, but if you have a basic knowledge of how to read music, you can use it on your own. It starts from very basic stuff, like just quarter notes and quarter rests, and incrementally adds stuff like eighth notes, half rests, dotted notes, triplets, sixteenth notes, etc.

When reading and especially when writing music for drums, keep in mind that the only thing important is when the hit happens; the duration of a note is simply a guide. What I'm trying to say is, it's the same to write a quarter note followed by a half-rest and a quarter rest, than writing just a whole note, since both will have the effect of just hitting a drum once at the start of a measure.

As for pitch, this link might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percussion_notation

  • I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to drums, so perhaps you can clarify for me -- are drum tabs visually more like regular sheet music than, say, guitar tabs?
    – user28
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 17:18
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    A little bit. I'm actually talking about sheet music in my response, when the question was about tabs. But tabs are pretty limited, since the notation doesn't include any timing information, other than the visual cues given with the alignment of the hits. The big problem with guitar/bass tabs is the lack of timing info; you have to know the song beforehand or the tab is useless, and I suspect it's the same for drum tabs.
    – Chochos
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 17:27
  • with me Drum tabs are just baffling theres so many different symbols and abbrieviations i dont know where to start Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 20:08

Music notation is the best "Drum Tab." Guitar/Bass Tab is great cuz it tells the musician which fret and string is played to get a particular pitch. (There are five different string and fret positions that can be played to get the same "E" pitch.) Drum notation in the drum set legend remains the same throughout the piece of music. Additionally, music notation for drum set enable you to see the duration of each notes its relationship to the notes around it

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