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  • Writer's picturePRO Drumsheets

SPECIAL DRUM SYMBOLS

Updated: May 1, 2023

Let's cover the rest of our drum key and some special symbols that you will commonly encounter in drum sheet music.


You can download the complete drum key right here:

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Hi-Hat Modifiers


Here are the most common Hi-Hat modifiers that you'll need in a song: half-open HH, open Hi-Hat, and (more uncommon) the instruction to close the Hi-Hat. You'll only find the latter if your open HH should NOT be closed on the very next Hi-Hat note, which is rare.


Drum Notation - Hi-Hat Modifiers

Please note that a half-open Hi-Hat can sound very different depending on how wide it is open, your Hi-Hat cymbals in general, and the way you play them. Therefore, it is necessary to listen to the song to match the HH sound as closely as possible.


Since notation can only be an approximate estimate of the actual sound, it only complicates things to include even more information. So there's no need to have three different noteheads for three different half-open Hi-Hat sounds, as it only makes reading harder, and in the end, you'll still have to listen to the song to get the right sound.




Cymbal Choke


There's basically only one modifier for your crash cymbal that you'll frequently need - the so-called cymbal choke. This sound is indicated by a dot over the note, which means "staccato" (short, choppy) in classical music. In real life, it means grabbing the cymbal immediately after hitting it to stop the sound. Think "Eye of the Tiger".


Ride (Bell)


The bell of the ride cymbal is usually played with the shoulder of the stick to get a more distinct and fatter sound. This symbol is not standardized and can vary from drum key to drum key.


Cowbell

A cowbell. Moo. This symbol is not standardized and can vary from drum key to drum key.

Drum Notation - Choke, Ride Bell and Cowbell



Ghostnotes

Ghostnotes are often (but not always) played on the snare drum and indicate very quiet strokes. However, the actual volume of ghost notes compared to your regular snare drum notes can be quite different, depending on the song and the style of the music.

Drum Notation - Ghostnotes

The right symbol looks like a normal snaredrum note in brackets. Unfortunately this symbol can be misleading, since bracketed notes usually mean "optional" - the note can be played or can be left out, your choice. That's why we exclusively use the left symbol in our drum sheets.




Sidestick and Rim

An "x" notehead on your snare drum line indicates that you should play a sidestick (or rim click, or cross-stick) on the snare drum. That means you strike the rim of the snare drum with the shoulder of your stick while resting the palm of your hand directly on the drumhead.


Since it's impossible to explain how to make a sidestick sound good in just one sentence, please Google "how to play a sidestick" or "how to play a cross-stick" or "how to play a rim click."


The second example indicates hitting the rim of a drum. You can pick different drums depending on the sound you want to achieve. Bigger drums will have a lower sound, and moving from the thin part to the thicker part of your stick while hitting the rim will also result in different pitches. This symbol is not standardized and can vary from drum key to drum key.


Drum Notation - Sidestick, Rimclick, Cross-Stick



Accents

The symbol on the left indicates that you should play an "accent," which means the stroke should be played louder than your other strokes in order to stand out. The symbol on the right is called "marcato" and tells you to play an even stronger accent.

Drum Notation - Accents

We tend to use the marcato symbol a lot because it's easier to assign it to a specific note (especially in passages with lots of notes), which makes it much easier to read.




Flams and Drags

A "flam" is a special drumming technique where you hit the drum with both sticks simultaneously. However, the first stroke (called the "grace note") has to be played slightly ahead of the second stroke (the so-called "principal note"). The grace note is usually played much quieter than the principal note, but can also be played at almost the same volume depending on the song and the style of the music.


The notation for the flam is kind of self-explanatory. A smaller note with a crossed-out flag (since it has no real note value) indicates that the note is played quieter and slightly ahead of the main note.


The example on the right is called a "drag." It is played exactly like a flam, but the grace note is doubled, as indicated by the corresponding symbol.

Drum Notation - Flams & Drags



Buzz Strokes and Multiple Stroke Rolls

A buzz sound is produced by pressing the stick against the drumhead, producing multiple strokes. Depending on the pressure the buzz can be shorter or longer and sound "tight" or "loose". Again, listening is absolutely key.

Drum Notation - Buzz Strokes & Multiple Stroke Rolls 1

As you can see, the drum symbols for playing a buzz stroke can vary a lot.


Here's an example with 16th notes that is supposed to indicate the same thing but looks quite different, depending on the notation you use.

Drum Notation - Buzz Strokes & Multiple Stroke Rolls 2

Sometimes it can be very convenient to have some kind of a shorthand notation for really small note values. While a "z" tells you to play a buzz stroke, a single diagonal line through the stem of a note tells you to double the note value and play exactly two notes instead of one.

Drum Notation - Buzz Strokes & Multiple Stroke Rolls 3

The example on the left is in fact pretty easy to read once you get the concept of doubling the 16th notes:

Drum Notation - Buzz Strokes & Multiple Stroke Rolls 4




Make sure to check out all the Free Drum Sheets on our website for some actual examples. And also: feel free to comment, like and share!











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