How to Read Percussion Music
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How to Read Percussion Music (Quick And Easy Guide)

Don’t worry, it’s easy! We’ll go over what percussion music is and how to read percussion music in this quick and convenient reference guide.

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How To Read Percussion Music: What Do You Need to Know?

Whether you’re trying to teach yourself how to read percussion music for a class, band, or personal reasons, you know how intimidating it can be.

Luckily, once you get the basics out of the way, reading percussion music becomes easy. Today we’ll go over what percussion music is, and how to read it.

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What is percussion music?

So, before we begin, let’s clarify what exactly is percussion music. Percussion is an instrument family that makes sound by being struck. This can apply to drums, cymbals, triangles, and even the tambourine.

Most drummers who want to read percussion music are obviously using drums. For that reason, let’s focus a little bit more on drum players. Being able to read your music sheet is the first step to becoming a great drummer.

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How do percussion instruments work?

Knowing how percussion instruments work can help you in learning to read percussion music. Remember, learning the basics will make a tremendous difference down the road.

The workings of percussion instruments are simple enough. You hit the instrument, and sound is made. But why is a certain sound made is the question.

Percussion instruments have a hollow body and the way they are designed, the sound is amplified throughout them. Maracas are shaken and drums are struck, but with both instruments sound is still amplified.

Percussion instruments are not just limited to hollow body objects though. Cymbals are also a part of the percussion family and they simply make a noise.



Now, let’s talk about how percussion instruments make certain notes. With drums, you simply tune them to play a different note. This is very similar to how guitars work.

A higher note is produced by tightening the head of the drum and tightening it produces a deeper sound.

The size of the drum also aids in producing different pitches. Smaller drums produce a deeper sound while bigger ones will produce a higher pitched sound.

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Tips and tricks to reading percussion music

There are a couple of things that you can and should focus on when reading percussion music. This will help you as you progress down the road as a percussion user.

First of all, you should know that the music you are reading is often referred to as drum notation. The benefits of learning how to read drum notation extend far beyond improving as a player.

Not only can you begin to write your own music, but you also can transcribe other music that you enjoy and make it your own!

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Time Signatures

Looking at the beginning of a music sheet, you will notice numbers. This is the time signature and they are important for a few reasons. Firstly, it tells us the number of beats in the bar.

If you notice, you can see there are four beats in the bar. Next, time signatures tell us what notes get the beat. In the same example above, you can see that the beat goes on the quarter note.



For additional reference. You can see that the beat goes on the quarter note and that there are three beats in the bar in total. It is referred to as three four.

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What does drum notation tell

Let’s take a look at what exactly this notation is telling us. Firstly, it is letting us know what drum needs to be played at what time. Each line, space, and symbol typically tells us a different drum that needs to be played.

Other drum notations may have more or less drums to recognize. This all depends on your drum set and what type of music you are playing.


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Focusing more on when to play it, timing is key. It is one of the main reasons underlying the perception that reading percussion music is hard.

Now that you know more about the time signature, you should be able to get the timing down. If the music lets you know the beat is four four, then the tempo is 1, 2, 3, 4 or 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &. This becomes easier as you practice. Explaining in words is a bit challenging.

Pay attention to which line the note is on so that you know which drum to play at what time. Note lengths are the next aspect to read. This tells you how long you should play a note and also what rhythm to play it with.

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Count While You Play

You may feel like you are too good to count while you play, but you are mistaken. Learning how each note on the sheet music hits and relates to the beat you are playing is important.

A great habit to get into is counting. If you get the rhythm down in your head, you will find it much easier to get right when you are playing.

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Take Baby Steps

Again, do not think just because you can play by ear that you are good. Reading percussion music is important to progress as a musician. If you ever find yourself struggling, remember that you can always take baby steps.

A big issue for most people learning how to read percussion music is getting your body to do what you want it to do.

Hitting two drums at the same time may sound easy, but people do struggle with it often.

Take it slow to begin with. Just as you start with a beginner drum set, then graduate to the best pro drum set that matches your emerging style, the process takes time.

Maybe focus only on hi-hats one time and then add on the snare or bass once you get that down. Work your way up and enjoy yourself once you learn how to read the music efficiently.

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Practice makes perfect

One of the oldest saying there is, practice makes perfect. This applies well to learning how to read percussion music. If you are too intimidated to start, you will never learn how to read the music.

Getting yourself a piece of music in front of you and learning is one of the best ways to learn how to read percussion music.

There are also several online resources you can use that will aid you in learning. It is a slow and frustrating process, but the more you do it, the better you will get at it.


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