I've been learning Drums for the past few months (lifelong dream, and I should have my very own kit in 36 hours or so! \o/) and my teacher has been teaching me how to sight-read. I'm doing quite well (I think), the complex exercises are usually only two bars, and the simpler exercises (i.e. snare drum only exercises focused on different beats) that are very lengthy (20+ bars) are simple enough that I can usually easily follow along with them. However, I do notice that occasionally I stumble when trying to sight-read and can't play further.

I'd like to improve my sight-reading and my general understanding of music theory, and I've seen several questions state that music theory is the same for each instrument - however does this remain true for drums since it is rhythmic rather than tonal? While I would like a basic grounding in general music theory it's more important to me to improve my drumming ability, including sight reading. Is a general music theory book still appropriate? :) (And if so, is there one you would suggest as being particularly good? Easy enough to understand for a beginner, but also in depth enough to be interesting and go fairly in-depth?)

(I'm also learning to play the Ukulele, however I don't think my teacher plans on teaching me to sight-read, as he says he can't sight-read himself.)

  • I think the ukulele part is different enough from the rest of this question that it should be a separate question.
    – user45266
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 19:31

4 Answers 4


When you're learning, the main choice you make is, do you want to become "good enough" (where good enough is defined by you, for whatever situation you're in), or do you want to become as good as you can? Either choice is fine. Just realize that your drum teacher is being paid to make you as good as you can be; unsurprisingly, learning general music theory and sight-reading is in the "be all that you can be" camp. If you want to be good enough for jamming out with buddies in a garage (which is, btw, the most fun I've ever had playing drums), then get a few rock beats down and go wild!

The reason music theory is important for drummers is because you don't drum in isolation. Everything you do needs to work with the melodic and harmonic work of your bandmates. Granted, knowing the differences between chords is probably not going to help you select between smacking one drum over another (to put it as bluntly as possible). But knowing the general forms of types of music will make it clearer when to play harder or back off, when to put in a harder or softer fill, and in general, make you playing more appropriate.

Being able to read rhythmic notation is more important for snare drummers than for drumset artists, but every once in a while, you'll be put in a situation where you're given a part, and you'll need to play it (If you ever want to do musicals, you'll get your parts written out for you, for example). If you never want to do musicals, then you're probably never going to need to sight-read rhythms.

Sight-reading melodies is great for jazz drummers. Jazz artists tend to carry around fakebooks, which contain lead sheets. THese contain the melody for a given piece, and the chords, which is enough for experienced musicians to "fake it". They're usually questionably legal, but they're very very widespread. For drummers, being able to see what a piece of music sounds like from the lead sheet is going to make your playing that much better. But if you're not going to play with jazz bands, there's probably no point to learning that particular skill.

Even so, I'd recommend learning how to sight-read for your ukelele work; you don't need a teacher to learn how to sight-read, you just need lots of lots of music. Pick up a fakebook, and go wild!

  • There are legal versions nowadays, but the original ones were illegal because they contained unauthorized transcriptions of performances, which infringes US copyright law. As I understand it, doing that kind of stuff usually requires a license from the copyright holder (record company?), which just wasn't happening. Wikipedia has a better explanation.
    – Babu
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 13:50

First, congratulation for your new hobby :D

I think, especially on drums, you are overating sight-reading! I don't exacly know what do you want to do with your drumming skills (playing in a band? just for yourself? ... rock, jazz, metal?), but it's fine that you're learning your lessons, but remember that this is just the basic of your own work! Maybe you should point out, why exacly you need to learn sight-reading fluently. Anyway, you will improvise and "write" your own beats instead of copying off other people, soon enough. So trust me, you need to read the beats only at the beginning with your teacher and it's no problem if you can't sight-read fluently. Your teacher would be a fool if he "smacks" you for playing differently, because you're learning how to feel the beat and how to learn a technique and not to play something one-on-one from the books. A good teacher, while showing you different styles and work on your technique and what-so-ever, should inspire you to develop your own ideas and style.

I'm really sorry if this answer is a bit different to what you've imagened (probably), but this is my advice for you.

About book recommendations... well, I only know german books. If you happen to speak the german language (Which could be, since you started some nouns with capital letters, which is typical german) I can highly recommend the book-series "Modern Drumming". And about general music theory, well it's always good to know at least something, since you're learning ukulele, too.


I will suggest not to focus on your sight reading. Focus more on beats and time signature theory (3/4 or 4/4 etc) and practice them. Also practice to keep your tempo persistent (most drummer is the key to tempo persistent in a band. For example: knocking the sticks together 4 times to determine the tempo and you need to keep the speed of the knocking because other players are depending on you)

You might also want to learn how to move your limbs independently (moving one limb without affecting other limbs concentration). Such as playing the snare half a beat before the bass while keeping your hi hat at 8/8 beating. It will be pretty hard at the beginning as your left hand might follow your right hand (and your right hand might play the half beat as well together with your left hand when playing the half beat snare)

Other than that, learn as much theory as possible because music theory is beautiful. You don't need to master them, just to know such thing exist is sufficient. This will help you in collaborating with your band mates. At least you understand what they are talking about and probably contribute in the music creation.

  • Limb independence and keeping good time are indeed the mainstay for drummers. Those who cannot do either aren't proper drummers! Sight-reading? There are jbs out there which are only available to good sight-readers. Why restrict the market? O.k., right now, a pop band will be the dog's, but in 20 yrs time?
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 10:40

Sight Reading!! Do it,.. This will enhance you greatly, whether you playing swing, blues.... to death mental. It becomes a huge part of independence, Look.. The more you concentrate and the more you have to think about the better you will become, but in the end it's all your choice on hoe far you wanna take your drumming. Just think about it, you need to perform the page, thus using your limbs, and even if it's just one line melodies you can place it on your bass drum EG: right hand plays constant eighth notes on the hats, snare plays the back beat on 2 and 4 and your kick foot plays the melody line. And you can grab any musically noted book to do this. In the end, (and their is no end to drumming) you achieve results in your overall playing ability. My attitude is, "if their is something you can do,do it. Why not." it can only help.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.