How to Read Drum Tabs

Not everyone who wants to learn to drum has prior knowledge of musical noticeboards. With the availability of drum tabs, you do not even need extensive knowledge of beats and rhythms. Popular from the late ’90s, drum tabs have facilitated the learning of thousands of artists. You have probably stumbled on this article while researching drum tabs. So, to help you, we have compiled everything we can in this article. So, sit tight and learn how to read drum tabs from scratch. 

So, What are Drum Tabs?

Since we have promised to enlighten you with everything regarding drum tabs, let us start from the basics. If you are a musician, you are probably aware of musical sheets. Drum tabs are such musical sheets that are specifically used for drums. In these sheets, you would find a simplified version of symbols that you could use to understand when to hit the drums. Not only this, but it also tells you how to do that.

Why Should You Read Drum Tabs? 

The symbols used in a drum tab are available on any conventional keyboard. Hence, they seem uncomplicated and less daunting to a beginner. Also, you do not need to be stuck on a piece of tune for days if you know how to read drum tabs. Nonetheless, you must remember that these tabs are tools for a newbie drummer. However, if you want to set your feet into the professional world, you need to resort to traditional sheet music to understand all the layers of the notations. 

How is it Set?

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Before knowing how to read drum tabs, you should be able to understand the way it is set. In drum sets, the parallel portion shows time, whereas the upright part represents the other parts of the drum set. Now, focus on the first column of the tab. That line of music shows a shorter version of the type of drum. If you look toward the right side of the tab, you would see symbols. These symbols would represent the beat that each drum plays. 

The Guide on Reading Drum Tabs

This is the section where we would enlighten you on how to read drum tabs. We would introduce you to the equipment, symbols and rhythm. 

  • The Equipment

The first step towards your learning would be to get yourself acquainted with all the parts of the drum in general. Otherwise, you would not be able to identify these parts in the tabs. Therefore, do your homework before putting your hands on the tab. In the tab, you would notice multiple abbreviations.

These short forms are used to denote each type of drums. Now, these abbreviations may vary according to the choices of the writers. However, we have compiled the common ones that most people use. While reading this part, focus on the order of the drums. These are shown according to the height of the drums.

    • HH – Hi-Hat
    • Hf – Hi Hat with Foot
    • B – Bass Drum
    • Rd – Ride Cymbal
    • CC – Crash Cymbal
    • SN – Snare
    • T1 – Hi Tom
    • T2 – Low Tom
    • FT – Floor Tom
  • The Symbols

Now that you know which abbreviation represents which drum, you need to know the symbols by heart. These symbols help you understand how to hit the drum, whether you need to hit it normally or harder. Remember to play the symbols in the same vertical column simultaneously. Here are the five symbols that you would find in all tabs. We would begin with the easier ones and proceed to the complicated ones gradually. 

  •  o =  strike 

Hit the drum normally when you see this symbol.

  • O = accent 

Hit harder than usual. 

  • g = ghost 

 Strike more softly than normal

  • f = flam 

Hit two strokes using alternating hands.

  • d = double stroke or a roll
  • Characters

After the symbols, come to the characters. You could use these characters for cymbals in your drum tabs.

  • x: strike
  • X:  loose hi-hat
  • o = hit the open hi-hat
  • # = choke 
  •  – = Pause
  • The Beats and Rhythm

In the basic 4/4 drum beat, the beat is divided into sets of 8th and 16th counts. Each of these sets is called a bar. You would be able to spot the ending of one bar from the beginning of another by the vertical lines that separate them. 

  • Counting

To play the beats accurately, you must keep your counting clear. If your beats are divided into 8th counts, you can count them as 1, 2, 3 and 4. On the other hand, if it is divided into 16th counts, you can count it as 1e, 2e, 3e, 3a, 4e and 4a. Try to remember your count. 

  • Recommendation

There is nothing superior to practicing. Therefore, if you want to master reading drum tabs, you need to practice it consistently. We would always recommend you to take one step at a time. There is no point in trying to use all the instruments at one because you would not be able to concentrate on all of them. Start with two lines in the beginning days.

Lastly, do not get nervous if you come across different symbols than the one here. Different writers may use different symbols to denote hits. So, whenever you encounter an unfamiliar symbol, take a breath. This symbol is just one Google search away. 


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At first, glance, learning to read drum tabs could look complex. Blame the different methods of writing various symbols and abbreviations. However, you can get more knowledge on the subject by reading and researching more on this topic. Put your best effort and you would not be disappointed. Therefore, start reading the basics today. Then keep on practicing because there is no other route that leads to mastery. Good luck on your journey. Hope our article helps. 

You Can Also Read: Free Drum Lessons for Beginners

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