I have a drum part that looks like this (instruments shown are cymbal, tambourine, tom, and kick):

close crop of a 5-line drum staff where the first beat has a stemmed note in each of the lower and upper voices, plus a whole note in a voice above that.

Whether splitting the upper voice this way is even standard in the first place I'm not sure, but it seems readable enough to me. With one problem: the first tambourine hit should be accented (>), and I have no idea how to place the accent so it's clear which instrument it applies to. What's the best thing to do here?

At the moment I've omitted the accent and hoped the similar figure (sans cymbal) in the following measures gets the point across, but this is obviously less than ideal.


3 Answers 3


Standard convention for drum set is to have a stems-up voice for hands and a stems-down voice for feet. So you should be grouping the tom with the cymbal and tambourine. You can break this convention, but only if the rhythms are complicated enough to warrant it.

Practical question: Is the accenting of the tambourine really that important given that it coincides with a crash cymbal? I can't imagine hearing much of a difference.

I would need to see the larger context, but I'm betting that if there are other accented tambourine notes, it will be perfectly clear to simply put the accent on the whole group. Accenting a crash cymbal is sort of redundant so a competent player will figure it out pretty quickly.

  • Whether to voice the drum kit as Hands & Feet or as Cymbals & Drums, depends on the music (see this answer). In this case Cymbals & Drums is perfectly reasonable. Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 22:31


Place the cymbal part on its own staff. (See Solution #3, below.)

Basic guidelines

From Behind Bars by Elaine Gould

Each part requires its own articulation marks. (p. 117)

[In double-stemmed writing,] place articulation marks at the end of each stem. Articulation should never be placed on the notehead side. (p. 117)

Given score excerpt with just basic guidelines.

Clearly, this doesn't work. The accent mark would collide with the cymbal part.

Additional guideline

Again from Gould:

[When there are three parts on a stave,] space considerations may determine the stem direction of the middle part, but ideally it should retain one direction within a phrase.

When there are two stems in the same direction, displace the lower part to the right. (p. 313)

Solution #1 (not ideal)

Use a downward stem for the tambourine part, and shift the kick part to the right.

Solution #1

The obvious drawback is the degree to which the kick part has to be shifted.

Solution #2 (not ideal, but better-ish)

Both use a down-stem for the tambourine and an up-stem for the kick. This requires less severe shifting.

Solution #2

Although this keeps the note heads closer together horizontally, it's visually confusing. This can be improved a bit by shortening the kick part's stem heights.

Solution #2 modified

Solution #3 (best, IMO)

Place the cymbal part on a separate percussion staff.

Solution #3

This allows the accent mark to be placed as expected with no collisions or adjustments to note heads or stems.

NOTE: I did not take the time to adjust the distance between staves, so they look exaggeratedly far apart in the above image.

  • 1
    Typical production practice would suggest the tambourine would be the one to have its own staff, not the cymbal Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 0:29
  • @ToddWilcox Before I make any changes, did I correctly understand which "voices" were which? My initial approach was just to keep each voice in its same, relative vertical position.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 0:57
  • 1
    I think yes? Just usually tambourine is overdubbed while cymbals would be played with the kit by the drummer. For the drum kit part, wooden things are generally stems down, metal things are generally stems up. There's a hi-hat foot thing that I think is usually stems down. If I were engraving this I would just omit the accent on the tambourine hit since it's a bit micro-managing for a drummer. They know what the one should sound like. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 1:25

This is pushing the possibilities of single-stave drum kit notation a little far! If it's important that ONLY tambourine should have the accent, give it a separate stave.

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