How to Read Bass Drum Music

By Carl Hose

Bass drum music is notated on a graph like all drum parts. Notation for the bass drum is similar to tablature for a guitar, except drum notation uses traditional music stems and tails to indicate rhythm. While many drummers choose not to read music for drums and play by ear instead, knowing how to read drum notations can improve your playing skills and give you an advantage as a musician.

Select a piece of drum sheet music or a drum exercise and identify the bass drum part. Drum sheet music can vary depending on how many drum pieces the part was written for. For bass drum notation, you will typically only worry about the first line on the graph or the first line and first space. A note on the first line of the graph indicates a single bass drum. A note on the first space indicates a second bass drum.

Read an "x" written on the bass drum line as a note. If there is no stem, rhythm isn't indicated. In this case, you will either need to know the song or make up your own rhythm. Bass drum music usually contains rhythm markings. Play notes marked with R and L with either your right or left hand (this applies to bass drum in a marching band).

Interpret standard rhythm by reading the music values as written. A whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, 16th and 32nd note is played on a bass drum as it would be played on another instrument. A slash through the stem of a note indicates the bass drum should be struck at specific note value for the duration of that note. Example: If a half note (worth two beats in common time) has a slash through the stem, strike the bass drum in eighth notes for the duration of the half note. Two slashes through a staff indicate the same, except you use 16th notes rather than eighth notes.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.