If you hope to play in a band, it isn't enough to just learn the basics of the drum. Even if you are progressing well and are starting to sound good, you are doing yourself a disservice as a percussionist if you don’t ensure that you have a solid foundation that covers the key points of being a drummer. If you want to be the best and most efficient drummer that you can be, what every your level is, it's best to find as much sheet music as possible to practice.

Reading sheet music for the drums is not just about being able to put it into practice. When you learn how to read drum sheet music, it allows faster communication between you and your band. If you are a solo drummer, it allows you to learn rudimentary drum techniques which are fundamental to progressing as an artist. By learning to read drum music, you will have access to new songs, learn a new style of music, try new drum patterns and learn how to play new drum beats faster.

Further, if you want to become a composer, you will be able to write down your songs where other drummers can read it and play along. Don’t hide behind your drum set and get comfortable, music notation is essential for your true talent to shine. Let's take a look at how to get started.

Learn to play the drums in a festival.
Being a musician is definitely about raw talent but it is also hugely based on training. Photo Source: Unsplash

Why You Must Learn To Read Music

When you learn to play the guitar, you have the choice between learning music theory. The theory is not really all that fun but make it easier to read music. People who play the guitar have 2 choices to the style of music that they play, tab music and sheet music. In drums, you will have the same choice between tabs and sheet music.

You Have A Few Choices:

  1. To learn the rhythmic music theory and to read sheet music
  2. not to learn the theory and read tabs
  3. or, do everything by ear.

My friend's father was a professional drummer for more than 33 years, he had never taken a single music theory course or drumming class. He was self-taught, and he did it before the internet and YouTube tutorials were available. However, limiting yourself in today's climate, to not learning music theory, is to deprive yourself of the basic fundamentals in learning. It also puts you at a disadvantage and will put a chokehold on what you can achieve. Because it is so basic, for a serious drummer this is similar to not knowing how to read. It will make you musically illiterate.

Certainly, learning by ear is also important as it will allow you to fine-tune your skill and perfect false notes, counter-time and rhythm problems but all this is also working alongside the music theory. You will know the meaning of an eighth note or a sixteenth note for example.

The Difference Between The Drum Tab And Sheet Music

Tab and sheet music are written quite. Differently, sheet music is recognised by most musicians no matter what instrument they play. Notes are written on a five horizontal line (the clef) which have equal spaces between them. Tab music is a form of simplified percussion notation. It uses a horizontal line to indicate the rhythm and vertical line to indicate which drum should be used.

Why Tab Music?

This style of reading has its benefits for beginner drummers especially. As it shows you accurately which drum to play and what to do with that drum visually. Sheet music doesn’t have this benefit.

Why Sheet Music?

The benefit of sheet music is that this music is not just specialised to the drum. Once you learn this skill, you can read music for all instruments. Sheet music communicates metering, rhythm and harmony, this is great for when you are in a band and need to be more precise about the timing of what you are playing.

The only things to learn are the symbols of the drums (bass drum, snare drum and other drums) and cymbals for the sound (hi-hat,) and their placement on the sheet. Easy, right?

You're ready, do your music readings yourself
Sheet music is a basic fundamental in music learning. Photo Source: Unsplash

What Are The Best Free Drum Sheet Music Websites?

Here, we'll talk about drum sheet music and not tablatures!

There are many drum websites on the internet, but they are not always of equal quality. It is important to realise that it is often the authors of the site who transcribe the music themselves. They write what they hear and make all of the sheet music themselves. This means that if they are not a very good musician, they will also transcribe their mistakes. There may be errors in their interpretation which is not at all useful for you. However, it is free which is a bonus - but remember that all drum sheet music requires a thorough checking before you learn it blindly. It is important to make sure it matches what you hear from the song.

Muse Score

On this site, the scores are very good, and there are lots of them. Created by 3 guys from Europe who wanted to make a musical community. Started to solve the issue of how to notate their own music and other issues they found in the musical community. It is a great website where contributors can upload their sheet music to share with the larger community. The scores are sorted by some instruments, artists, style and instrument which is an undeniable advantage of the site. Music is regularly updated so you can find a game of thrones music and other popular scores.

8 Notes

8 notes are very well designed which makes it easy to find many scores. You can find music by instrument, musical genre or style. This site has other free resources and lessons, while it isn't a dedicated drumming site it is an invaluable free resource.


Has thousands of options for free sheet music and it is all well organised by performer, style, period, instrument and composer. It offers itself as a totally free resource to allow access and exposure to music for up and coming artists and people who are new to music.

Complementary methods to play drums with sheet music.

The road to music success.
Giving you a real head start into becoming a professional musician. Photo Source: Unsplash

The Video Tutorials


The YouTube Channel Cifraclub (in Portuguese) offers another way to learn drums in a visual and fun way. They are a collective of musicians, and all of them make videos for different instruments. So to find the drum tutorials just search drums and it will show you all of their drum tutorials.

The professional drummer plays the percussion instrument in the top of the screen divided into three: view from above, side view and zoom on the pedal of the bass drum, while at the bottom of the screen, the tablature is displayed and the items to hit appear in orange in real time.

Key to decipher the tablature:

  • Cr = crash cymbal,
  • Ri = ride cymbal,
  • Ch = Charleston (normally HH in English),
  • Cx = snare drum (normally SD in English)
  • T1 = tom alto (also noted as TA or HT),
  • T2 = tom medium (also noted as TM or MT),
  • Su = low tom (also noted as TB or FT or even F),
  • Bu = bass drum (normally BD in English).

They don’t have translations or subtitles on their videos so unless you are bilingual in Portuguese. The explanations from the drummer will not be useful but the tutorial played with the tablature and the visual is an excellent way to progress. The other advantage is that depending on the piece played, you will see different acoustic drums or electronic drums.

Instrumental Style Backing Tracks

Once you have your drum sheet music, why not practice them directly with a soundtrack? You can choose to play along with the drums or remove the drums from the track and become the lead drummer. You can find it may free karaoke tracks like this on youtube.

Make Your Own Drum Recordings

There are many free tools at your disposal, and there is a good chance that you will find the song you are looking for. But how can you see your progress, especially if you are practising alone using free online methods? There are 2 things that you can do: the first is to write your own drum sheet music, the second is to record yourself playing. You may find it complicated the first time that you do this but after that, it will become easier, and your sheet music will be fully adapted to you and your song.

Here Are Some Tips To Make It Easier:

  • Take a pencil, an eraser and a sheet of paper: before transcribing it to sheet music you should write it down, and you may make mistakes when you start.
  • Start with a simple and short piece.
  • Listen to the song to set the tempo and the rhythmic signature first: you can use a metronome to help with that.
  • Use a free audio software like Audacity to slow down the song
  • Find the structure of the song: Often it's an intro, a verse, a chorus, a bridge, a finale. This can, of course, vary according to the length of the pieces and the number of measurements.
  • Make a table with the times and names of the drums and cymbals and fill it up according to what you hear and
  • Use software to format your note: Musescore is free and easy to use.

Listening is essential to succeed and do not forget the beat. So are you ready to find or create your sheet music? 


Familiarise yourself with different kinds of music

As someone who is aspiring to play the drums well, it certainly helps to have a familiar knowledge of the different kinds of music that exist within the world of music. After all, many genres of music would certainly not exist (or at the very least not be the same) without the drums as a solid foundation of the song. 

When listening to music, consider what the percussion notation would look like

try and figure out the tempo, time signature and how many beats are within a bar

Try and pick out other percussion elements within a song such as drum fills, open/closed hi-hats,  tight or loose snare…

Certain genres of music can lend themselves to certain time signatures and tempos, and being able to easily pick these drumming features out can really train your ear to be more attuned to sound and song structure. For example, waltz music is generally in 3/4 time and between 84-90 beats per minute. Conversely, rock music tends to be in 4/4 time and can vary between 100-140 beats per minute.

When listening to songs such as these you may want to use your hands to count the time signature and a metronome to pinpoint the exact speed of the song - Notice where the kick is placed and where the snare hits. This can help to visualise the structure of the song for future notation.

Familiarise yourself with different types of music
Whether it's rock, jazz, Latin or classical, there are so many different drum patterns out there to learn from!

On another note, within the modern age of commercialised music being fed to the masses, it can be difficult uncovering some musical hidden gems.

While technology has been criticised for forcing us to listen to top 40 songs, it has also proven to be a useful tool in discovering smaller and far more niche kinds of music. YouTube, radio sites such as NTS and dedicated music blogs have been able to showcase some fantastic and under appreciated music that may be insightful for those interested in the fundamentals of percussion

Moreover, music from different cultures around the world can open up a whole new world of inspiration and to the listener and add a level of complexity to their playing, as it often varies in tempo, time signature and overall difficulty. 

For example, within Indian classical music, time within a song is measured differently than songs originated in the west. In addition to time signatures, traditional Indian music uses time cycles for 5 different types of beat durations. 

George Harrison, renown guitarist for The Beatles used these unique Indian methods of structuring a song’s beat to compose ‘Here Comes The Sun’ from the iconic 1969 LP ‘Abbey Road’. 


Using a professional recording program to play along with a track

While basic and free programs such as Audacity are great for someone who’s a beginner at recording music, more advanced programs such as Logic Pro X, Ableton or FL Studio may be more accurate at helping you break down drum patterns.

While these programs (otherwise known as DAW’s or digital audio workstations) certainly cost more and are not free to download, they are far more powerful and can provide you with an extensive library of loops, plug-ins and recording features to assist you with the recording process.

For example, you may want help breaking down a new drum beat you’ve found online. With these programs, you can import a song as an audio file and then use automation to break down each individual kick and snare hit. What’s more, important values such as the time signature, beats per minute and over track length are also on display for you to refer to.

How do you record music on your computer?
Recording your drumming in a professional DAW can help you to easily visualise your timing and provide you with automatic notation

These programs are also able to import MIDI tracks which are a great way to visually depict the drum sequences and patterns within a track.

With all this information to refer to, you can record your own drums over the top of a backing track to try and match the beat. 

However, when it comes to notation, the most useful feature within these programs is the score/notation editor (Logic Pro X). This means you’re able to actually play through a song and the program will be able to write the music out for you! Unfortunately, this is not always accurate and predominantly only works within MIDI regions.


Getting help from a professional musician, drummer or drumming teacher

Whether you’re at a beginner, intermediate or advanced level of drumming, there are always ways to improve your knowledge of drumming theory from an expert who has had years of experience. 

You may want to seek out someone who’s had experience playing drums in a band (both live and in a recorded setting), or maybe you’d like to find a mentor with formal academic music training (i.e. someone who composes a score or teaches music for a living). Why not consider getting a private drumming tutor within Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane or Perth with SuperProf Australia?

Whoever you’d prefer to give you insider drumming knowledge, there’s no doubt that learning from someone who knows what they’re talking about is going to be beneficial for you in the long run.

Your teacher will be able to supply you with certain exercises and written music theory that is easy to understand and visualise. Committed lessons each week can really raise the bar with your drumming skills and train your ear to naturally pick up certain drumming patterns, etc.


Other alternative resources that can help with drumming theory

While online YouTube tutorials and private drumming lessons can certainly build up your ability to read drum music over time, there are still alternative options for those who neither have the patience for online tutorials or the finances to help fund private lessons.

If you go to your local library or music shop, you should be able to find a book on drum sheet music and drum music theory. In addition to this, you might also be able to find a songbook featuring some of your favourite songs transcribed specifically for drummers to learn. 

Unlike online drum sheet resources which can be written by anybody, these books are often verified for accuracy and are sometimes even created in partnership with the artist whose songs are being published.

How to read drumming sheet music
Sometimes traditional methods of learning music theory are the best way forward!


How drumming theory can help pave the way for your future in music

Drumming theory is certainly not required to play drums, nor is it needed when composing a song. However, with everything mentioned within the aforementioned article, there’s no denying that having a formally educated drumming background can elevate your musical ability and put you at a significant advantage for any future music endeavours.

Lacking the fundamental basics in music theory can certainly make your life a lot more difficult than it needs to be. You may be trying to compose a song or work out the timing of a song with your bandmates before a live show, yet knowing what technically works and what doesn’t can save you hours of frustration. 

For those interested in writing a score for film, television or radio, having the ability to read and write music and notation for the drums will be something that many professional employers are looking for. 

Directors and producers will be on the lookout for someone who can communicate effectively with other musicians to achieve results without any hassle, and having the skill to read music is definitely a big part of that!

Writing score for films using music theory
Your drumming theory knowledge could be the key factor in landing scoring work for the film, television, radio or media industry!


With this in mind, there is also something to be said for musical intuition and natural feel when playing, composing and working out songs. Some songs do not always have to be technically accurate to sound good. In fact, there are many famous musicians who were never formally trained in music - Elton John, Prince and Jimi Hendrix to name a few! 

It is possible to be so engrossed within the theory that the process of playing and making music becomes less fun and more like a formal exercise. Remember to have a balance and have fun at the same time! 

Hopefully, with enough time and energy, you are able to combine both a love of playing music and a practical application of musical theory to do whatever you want to do with one of the most important and under appreciated instruments in the world - the drums.


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