How to Read Tenor Drum Music

By Kara Page
Reading tenor drum music takes strong rhythmic knowledge

Learning to read music for any instrument is challenging, and for percussionists it takes an especially deep knowledge of rhythm. While there are a few different types of tenor drums, the player will usually be facing two to five drums of different pitches, each of which has its own line or space on a staff, much like a note on a piano. Tenor drums are commonly found in both marching bands and wind bands or orchestras.

Arrange your tenor drums in order in an arc in front of you. For classical percussionists, this is usually ascending in pitch from left to right. For marching percussionists, there are a few different varieties depending on how many drums you are playing. The smaller drum is in the middle, with the next largest to its left, the largest after that to its right, and the largest after that to the far left, alternating back and forth. For example, a set of 4 tenor marching drums, with 1 being the smallest and 4 being the largest, would be in front of you in this order: 4213.

Look at your sheet music to see if the composer has indicated a special key showing you which drum is in which line or space. Typically, the lowest drum will be the lowest on the staff and the highest will the the highest note on the staff. For example, for a set of 3 tenor drums, the lowest could be indicated on the second space from the bottom, the middle on the third space, and the top on the fourth space. The drum notes will either be on lines or spaces, but rarely both.

Read the rhythms just as you would on a snare or single drum. For example, a quarter note gets one beat, and a half note gets two beats. However, you should adjust your sticking to accommodate the setup of your drums. While the sticking "Right Left Right Left" might work on a snare, you may have to use an alternate sticking like "Right Left Right Right" in order to more smoothly play the music on your tenor drums, depending on their placement to your left or right.

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About the Author

Kara Page has been a freelance writer and editor since 2007. She maintains several blogs on travel, music, food and more. She is also a contributing writer for Suite101 and has articles published on eHow and Answerbag. Page holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of North Texas.