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How To Read Drum Tabs

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Drum tabs are a simple method of writing down music played on drums. They are a good way for people who don't know how to read standard notation to get instructions on how to play a particular song.

Tabs will give you a solid overview of the piece you want to play. They will tell you when and how to hit the drums.

However, there are things that tabs will not tell you. Bear in mind that tabs are not a substitute for standard notation.

Tabs don't use symbols like you find in standard sheet music, they use ordinary ASCII characters and numbers. They are commonly created by musicians for musicians and are usually freely available on the internet.

Drum Tabs For Beginners

Please note: Drum tabs are only going to get you so far and cannot replace standard notation. To really broaden your drumming horizons, take a look at Learn & Master Drums.

Reading tabs can be confusing for beginners, but it's really not that difficult once you learn what all the symbols mean. The best way to learn is by example, so let's begin. Here is an example of a basic drum beat:

Drum tabs
Now we'll try to decipher this. This simple tablature is using 16th notes, that is what the small dashes represent. It is telling you to play a hi-hat every half beat, base drum on 1st & 3rd beat and snare drum on the 2nd & 4th beat. As you can see, each line represents a different drum. The top line is the count. Counting notation is placed either above or below.

At the beginning of each line you can see abbreviations for the different parts of the drum kit. This tells you which part of the drums to play with. In our example HH stands for hi-hat, SD is the snare drum, and BD is the bass drum. Little circles and x's tell you when to hit a particular drum.

Here is a list of basic symbols and abbreviations that are commonly used in drum tabs:

Abbreviations for instruments:
  • BD: Bass Drum
  • SD: Snare Drum
  • HH: Hi-hat
  • LT: Low Tom
  • HT: High Tom
  • FT: Floor Tom
  • RC = Ride Cymbal
  • CC = Crash Cymbal
  • SC = Splash Cymbal
Symbols denoting how to hit the drums:
  • o: Strike
  • O: Accent
  • g: Ghost note
  • f: Flam
  • d: Drag
Symbols denoting how to hit the cymbals and hi-hats:
  • x: Strike (Cymbal or Hi-hat)
  • X: Hit Hard Cymbal or Loose Hi-hat
  • o: Hit Open Hi-hat
  • #: Choke (Grab Cymbal With Hand After Striking It)
This more or less covers the basics, or at least basics of basics. Remember to start with easy pieces and work your way up.

Also remember that drum tabs can not replace standard notation. They have disadvantages, the main being insufficient rhythmic info, so if you're really serious about drumming, you should learn how to read sheet music as well. For that and more, visit Learn & Master Drums.

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