When writing notes on the neutral clef for percussion, do the notes correspond to different instruments (bass drum, snare drum, etc.) or do the notes represent something else?

Here's an example: a line of notes on a neutral clef for pitched percussion.

  • That does answer my question, thanks for posting. Feb 1 at 23:19
  • They do indeed refer to different drums, cymbals, percussion instruments, there's not much else they could do! Ironically, most drum sounds are a lot shorter than the note values shown, which has always baffled me.
    – Tim
    Feb 2 at 9:01
  • @Tim If by the length of a drum sound we mean the time between the attack and when the sound produced decays to 0dB, it is certainly possible that in fast enough tempi and short note values, the sounds are longer than the written note values. There's not really a way to extend the sound of a drum after the attack without outside help, and having to manually dampen/shorten the notes in the middle of playing would be a huge hinderance, making beats of any considerable complexity or speed practically impossible.
    – Divide1918
    Feb 4 at 15:52
  • @Divide1918 - that's pretty well what I meant. Writing out drum notation any other way would be impractical, that's the irony. As in making a snare drum sound last for the whole beat it usually gets written as. Cymbals, of course are different - in fact, the opposite often happens - they will sound for longer than the written notes. But that's accepted too.
    – Tim
    Feb 4 at 15:57
  • @Tim where the specified sound is shorter than the note duration, there are two considerations: first, writing shorter notes with rests is little more than busywork without practical value, and second, people might interpret the rest as an instruction to ensure that the sound does not exceed the (shorter) notated duration. That is, if you write eighths and eighth rests, you might find snare drummers trying to damp the instrument, especially at faster tempos. After all, "the composer must have done that for a reason."
    – phoog
    Feb 6 at 14:18

1 Answer 1


If there's no indication to the contrary, and particularly if it's a drum part, then you can assume that notes in the first space are bass drum, notes in the third space are snare drum and x-noteheads above the stave are cymbals (for the example given most likely hi-hat). Notes on the lines are very likely tomtoms.

In other cases it's possible to use the percussion clef for any unpitched instruments. It's just neccessary to provide some information on which lines/spaces indicate which instruments, either by providing a key or by writing the instrument names over each entry.

  • This answered my question, thank you very much for clarifying. Feb 1 at 23:19

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