I am trying to practice Smell like a teen spirit on drums and there is something I don’t understand with dotted notes.

Here is the sheet:enter image description here

I don’t understand the use of dotted notes in this sheet. If there were no dots I would have played this measure the same way, that is to say crash and kick on the 1 and kick on the d. For me the dotted notes don’t bring any additional information on how I am supposed to play the song. Is there something I don’t understand ?

Thank you.

  • Without the dots, the semiquavers would need to become quavers for the bar to be complete?
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 13:25
  • 1
    Curious - do you count "1 e an d" instead of "1 e and a"?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 16, 2021 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


This drum part is written as a single voice, only one rhythm which incorporates different drums and cymbals being played at different times, sometimes only one, sometimes two simultaneously. Regardless of the vertical position of the notes or how many notes are played the overall rhythm in the bar has to add up to 4 beats in any combination of quarters, eighths, sixteenths, etc. Because there is a 16th at the end of the 1st beat the cymbal must be a dotted eighth since they are rhythmically linked.

This is one way of writing drum parts. Another way is to use two voices, one for drums and one for cymbals. You do this by using stems up and down. Here is an example of the same exact rhythm written with 2 voices:

enter image description here

(Disclaimer: I wrote this on my iPad with my index finger)

As you can see, with two voices the cymbal and hat are just playing quarters (stems up)and the back and forth rhythm between the bass and snare (stems down) is notated separately. One important note especially if writing by hand, everything MUST line up vertically. Some say (myself included) this is a better way to write drum parts because it is more accurate and separates the top and bottom of the kit (i.e. in version one you don’t REALLY play a dotted 16th on the cymbal, it just rings through). It takes a little more time and effort to write 2 voices so many people have adopted the one voice method of writing drum parts like in your example. Ask other drummers you know who are good readers about their preferences. Also check drum method books and see how they are written, one or two voice.

  • 1
    These are important reasons for which I consider 2-voice drum parts better in general. In fact: 1. they properly separate the "tempo" (hat/cymbal) from the rhythm; 2. they don't create confusing rhythms like the one shown by the OP. This is also conceptually better as the cymbals might have a longer sustain (like in this case, with the open hihat) that doesn't match the written duration, especially in the third beat. Writing a good drum part is not always easy (and even drummers often don't get it right): you have to balance proper notation and readability, and you can't always have both. Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 13:16

Just checking, do you understand what dots do to rhythm? As Tom mentions, if you took away the dots you would have made the first note a quaver (or 8th note), and you'd have to make the kick note one as well, so you'd be playing it at a different time (halfway through the beat instead of 3/4 of the way through the beat).

If all of this is news to you, then we'll start at the beginning: a dot makes a note longer by adding half of whatever it already was. If a quarter note is a beat, then a dotted quarter is 1.5 beats. An 8th note is half of a beat, so a dotted 8th is 3/4 of a beat. To figure out how to play it, start imagining 16th notes inside all of the beats; you can try counting "One ee and a Two ee and a" (or many other types of patterns). Using that pattern, the kick note would fall on the "a" that represents the last of the four 16th notes that subdivide the first beat.


I appreciate that a lot of drum sounds cannot be made to sound longer than the fraction of a second they're hit, but there's more to music - particularly written down - .

Written music follows technical rules, one of which is that there must be the requisite number of notes in each bar.

Those dotted quavers can't make the actual sound any longer, but they need to be written as such, otherwise the semi-quavers that follow could be played too early or too soon. Without the dots, they're too short as notes.

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