28th Oct 2014

Understanding Rhythm Notation on a Drum Tab

Understanding rhythm notation will help you play drum music

notated on a drum tab.

Drum tabs are a popular form of music notation. However, tabs only provide us with the pitch of notes, not the lengths of notes or the rhythm, which is the heart of drum music. Luckily, you can use rhythm notation, which is similar to sheet music notation.

Every song has a beat, or the steady rhythm of music. The beats are grouped into bars, or measures, to help musicians keep their place when playing music. Bars typically consist of four beats but can have more. You’ll know how many beats are in a bar and each beat’s note value by looking at the time signature at the beginning of the tab. The top number is the number of beats in a bar while the bottom number is the note value of the beats. The most common time signature is 4 over 4, which means that each bar contains four one-fourth notes.

Rhythm notation is created by changing the appearance of notes to indicate their duration and by using rests, or the length of silence. A whole note or rest is four beats. All other rhythmic values are fractions of the whole note, such as a half note, a quarter note, an eighth note, and so on. Different notes and rests are indicated under beats using symbols. Songsterr has a nifty little chart that displays each note/rest type and its symbol.

So, let’s say you have four beats on a bar. If every beat is a quarter note, you’ll play one note for one beat, no matter how fast or slow you play the tab as a whole. If you replace the first two beats with a half rest, you’ll rest for two beats, then play one note each for the second two beats. To see and hear how rhythm notation works, check out this simple drum tab exercise on Songsterr.