I'm wondering if there is anything about the number of notes a drum set has. Western music typically has 12 notes, but that is for everything except drums. Wondering if there is a way to classify drum notes / sounds.

  • 3
    are you asking about non-pitched drums, like drum set, or pitched drums like timpani?
    – b3ko
    Aug 28, 2018 at 13:42
  • I am asking about like a drum set with snare and cymbals and such. But good question, I haven't thought about timpani, but I imagine that a timpani has notes like a guitar.
    – Lance
    Aug 28, 2018 at 13:46

5 Answers 5


There are timpani, which are tuned to definite notes. Some members of the 'drum kit'have a discernable pitch too. Toms are sometimes tuned to fit in with the key of a song. But though a snare drum head may be tightened or loosened there isn't really a pitch there.

There is drum kit notation that allocates a sound to various 'pitches' on the stave or keyboard. Sometimes a pitch may indicate more than one instrument or playing technique by different notehead shapes. This 'map' is typical, but by no means exhaustive.

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  • I'm glad you mentioned drum kits can be tuned. Sometimes the pitch can be pretty clear if the drum has time to resonate. Dec 17, 2018 at 14:59

Drum sets don't really have notes in the traditional sense (usually). they do have a number of what could be considered individual instruments set up in close proximity and played by one player.

The number of sounds (if you limit each drum to one sound) is equal to the number of drums there are.

Note that you have common techniques that are used that may have a special notation as well. For example a cross stick on a snare drum may be indicated with an X for a note head on what ever line or space the snare is notated on.

there are no standards for noting drumset, but there are some conventions that you can google search for, but in general the deeper the sound the lower on the staff it is notated. so bass drum down low, snare in the middle and cymbals up top.

also, note that is no standard drum set. you can have anything from 3 pieces, to a crazy Neil Peart type drum set that has over 30 pieces, or anything in between. 5 piece sets are common for beginners (kick, snare, 2 rack toms, and a floor tom) plus cymbals (typically hi hats, ride, and at least one crash)


From what I've learned drums that are either recorded live or composed in a daw are pitched to match the key of the song. For example if your song is played in a c scale... all of the drums are tuned to c. Although drums dont have a reputation for having notes, I've learned that lots of producers pitch the notes to the root note of the scale just to make the drums sound more uniformed to the other instruments. Even though it is not done live, it can be done. Creating drums in a daw is how most of the chart topping songs are made today. A lot of those drums are tuned to the frequencies most pleasing to the ears.

  • 1
    i have never heard of this before. what is your source for this information?
    – b3ko
    Sep 5, 2018 at 13:13

Each drum plays tones which consist of more than 1 note. One-headed drums are louder and more defined than 2 sided, which are more indefinite. They both are tuned to coincide with each other in a certain key for a melodic purpose, especially one headed drums.


The overtones and harmonic information produced by an unpitched drum are not all near multiples of the fundamental, and therefore human ears have a very difficult time determining the fundamental. Theoretically, such drums do have a specific note, but their timbre is so cluttered with random equally-loud frequencies that they aren't useful for constructing harmony.

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