What is the best way to notate crashes for drum kit, that happen only occasionally, while the rest of the rhythm pattern remains unchanged? Or only at the beginning of a section, but with the rest of the pattern continuing without the crash? Each of the examples below should ask the drummer to play the same thing. I would usually use the first notation, as it is less "busy" looking, and assume that the drummer knows only to crash on the first of the second group of repeated bars (i.e. bar 3). The second example is most accurate, but seems unnecessary. Is the third example correct at all?!


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EDIT: from experience, it seems like the more accurate example (ex.2) is usually used in transcriptions, but I wondered what drummers prefer in actual drum charts.

  • 1
    Just chatted with a drummer I worked with, who said on regular patterns, often the 'extra' bit is just written over the top.Said to look at the writing of Sammy Nestico (great writer/arranger) for really well written drum parts.
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2014 at 18:30
  • Right, cheers Tim. Yes, so that's like ex.3. I used to love playing Sammy Nestico charts, really well arranged. BTW, I tried to reverse my down vote on your answer, following all your useful comments, but can't unless you edit it... Apr 29, 2014 at 18:33
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    If that's all I have to worry about, it would seem I have no problems !! I've been trying to get the powers that be to encourage downvoters to explain their reasons, to no avail. I love Sammy too.My comments are not my answer, which right now still stands.
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2014 at 19:07
  • That is fair enough. Serves me right for being too quick to click. Thanks for all the useful info. Apr 29, 2014 at 21:10

4 Answers 4


Summary: Ex. 2 is self-contained and unambiguous; however, if you have other ways of communicating your intent to the performer, then the other, less busy, approaches are probably more useful.

Ex. 2, the unambiguous one, is required if you're distributing the music "into the wild", i.e. you expect an arbitrary drummer to pick up the score and play it verbatim without any further input from you. That's why it is what you typically see in published works.

If you're able to directly communicate your intent to the performer or if he/she can base the performance on a recording, you can take various shortcuts in the notation. In that case I can see even Ex. 3 as being a completely feasible approach, even if the note were a hand-scribbled "crash here" on top of the score.

Getting meta: the discussion in the comments to Tim's answer is exactly the type of communication that's required: performer looks at Ex. 1, plays extra crashes, you come back and say "no, just crash only on measure 3", player may note on his/her score this intent, and then the result is unambiguous.

One way to reduce the ambiguity in Ex. 1 would be to label the first bar as "Patt. 1" (or whatever) and then put that, along with a dashed line (like an 8va line) over the last 3 measures. I've most commonly seen this type of approach in guitar tabs where they say "with rhythm figure 1" so that the repetitive rhythm guitar part doesn't clutter up the score.

  • Thanks, Dave. Great info. I like the "textual" pattern information given in guitar TABs, but haven't seen it in any drum charts before. I agree with your points about accuracy, but I have seen all of the above used in drum charts... Apr 29, 2014 at 15:06
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    Just adding to some other comments here...though the notation of Ex. 3 suggests otherwise, at first glance it's pretty clear your intent. If I were playing the part I would likely only play the crash for that measure. That said, Ex. 2 is the most notationally correct. Apr 29, 2014 at 15:59
  • That's what I thought; pretty sure I've seen this in big band charts, for instance, where a pattern is set up and then any "hits" are shown. Apr 29, 2014 at 16:34
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    Like that idea - it sort of follows reality, as in a pattern is established, and bits are added/changed as you go along.
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2014 at 17:57

I don't like Ex.1, because it looks like you have a crash on not only the third but also on all subsequent bars.

The second option Ex.2 (as you suggest) is very clear, but also seems to have too much redundant information.

I like Ex.3 as it is succinct, but (especially for a more complicated grooves) it could be taken to mean to hit both the crash and the high-hat at the same time (on the first beat).

Another option worth considering is (as the drum kit is notated with one voice for cymbals and another voice for drums) to treat the two voicings with their own repeat symbols.

Ex.4 separate repeat symbols each voice

This way is easy to interpret, yet isn't too bulky with all that redundancy in the drum voice.


Put the repeat sign ( the diagonal line with a dot each side) through the bar line, so it signifies a two or three bar repeat. The sign would in this case have a '3' over it above the bar line. Hope it makes sense !Sorry I can't portray it.

  • I know the notation you mean, but I'm not repeating a two bar pattern here. Apr 29, 2014 at 13:55
  • I reckon it is still valid with however many bars get repeated - the number needs putting in. I don't think it's peculiar to a two bar repeat, although that's common.
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2014 at 13:57
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    Hi Tim, I think you're referring to how many bars are repeated, which yes I would usually put in too, but that's not what I'm asking about here. Apr 29, 2014 at 14:01
  • @BobBroadley - I read the 1st sample as no crash on bars 1 and 2, but then I thought it showed a crash on bar 3, which would then continue for the subsequent bars.Sample 2 shows a crash only on bar 2, but no more.Sample 3 shows a crash on 3 and also on each bar after.Are you looking for a crash on each odd numbered bar. Am I being obtuse?
    – Tim
    Apr 29, 2014 at 14:33
  • Hi Tim, yes absolutely right, the second one only has one crash, which is what I want, but some drummer colleagues tell me that this would be assumed with example 1 as well, and that it is neater as you can more easily see the phrase lengths. I'm trying to see if there is a consensus among drummers about this. More likely my question is slightly obtuse... Apr 29, 2014 at 14:40

Definitely 3. Much cleaner, and the crash will be much less likely to be overlooked than in the other two!

No need for the 'Drum Set' staff label (particularly after the first line), we know it's a drum part!

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