How To Read Drum Tabs (Updated Oct2021)

If you want to learn how to play the drums, you should know how to read some drum tabs. With them, you can learn how to play the beat of your favorite songs. However, knowing how to read drum tabs should not be used as a substitute for reading drum sheet music. It is still far better to learn sheet music so you can play a wider variety of songs. 

In learning drum tabs, you have to note the particular tabs that you like to play. The drum tabs that you need to know highly depend on the song that you like to play. You may need to visit a drum tabs website if you want to look for a specific drum tab. Drum tabs websites often have printable drum tabs that you can use. In this article, we will only cover a few sample drum tabs. It is done so you can learn drum tabs slowly and methodically. 

How to Read Drum Tabs

Unlike ordinary notes, where you only need to see the notes to play them, drum tabs have to be read horizontally and vertically. Besides knowing how to execute the beats, you also need to know the symbols to know what type of drum you should strike to perform the same rhythm. 

Understanding Drum Tabs Timing

The first thing that you need to understand is drum tab timing. Most songs have a 4/4 timing. But drums are different. The tabs are often arranged in sets of 16. But these are not played in the same way as notes. Instead, they are played as beats. 

It is pretty standard for drummers to say “1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4,” which represents the 16-range timing of drum tabs. This range is called a bar. And it is often separated by the | symbol in the sheet. 

Understanding Symbols

There are different symbols for different types of drums. C stands for crash cymbal, S for Snare, B for Bass for H for Hi-Hat. You may also notice that in a specific timeline, there are only X’s and O’s. If that’s the case, X’s mean cymbals, and O’s mean drums. The letter can then be bigger or smaller depending on how strong you should hit the drum. 

Practicing With Real Music

All the ideas here are only theory unless you try it yourself. It would make it easier for you to learn some drum tabs if you look at the tabs of some songs and see how they added the symbols based on the music’s beat. You may notice that they may use other marks. You’ll find that they will have a 1x or 2x in a particular bar in some instances. When that happens, it only means that you should play the bar again. 

Note: Symbols can vary with every drum tab.

Unfortunately, every drum tab is different. Some of them will have their symbols. In some instances, you’ll find that the drums are further categorized into ride cymbals, crash cymbals, high tom, medium tom, floor tom. If you add the hi-hat, snare, and bass into that and have a ton of acronyms, you have to learn. 

Common acronyms are

R or Rd for Ride cymbals

C or Cr for Crash cymbals

St or T1 for High Tom

Mt or T2 for Medium Tom 

Ft or T3 for Floor Tom

H or Hh for Hi-Hat

S or Sd for Snare drum

B or Bd for Bass drum

It may take a while for you to get used to it. But once you do, your mind will instantly associate the acronym with the drum, and your body will move as well. 

What If They Used a Different Acronym?

If the creator used a different set of acronyms, you could always look at the legend at the top. This will often tell you what drum you should hit for every acronym you see in your sheet. 

Do I Still Need To Learn Sheet Music?

Yes. Drum tabs can only give you what to hit as you listen to the beat of the music. But it will be easier to read if you know how to read sheet music. All skilled drummers know how to do this. Drum tabs only offer an alternative if you don’t have access to sheet music. 

How to Learn Drum Tabs Easily

If you are a complete beginner when it comes to reading drum tabs, don’t worry. By following the tips below, you can learn it little by little. 

1. Take the Time to Study

When given a new set of drum tabs, it helps to take the time to study the material before you play it. As mentioned, the acronyms can vary with each drum tab. You may need to check the legend first to see how it is played. If there is recorded music, that is better. It will help you to play the beat because you can listen to it quickly. 

2. Break the Tabs into Manageable Chunks

If playing the entire song can be too much for you, you can always break it down into smaller and manageable chunks. It will help you to learn the song little by little. Before you know it, you would have already covered the entire piece. 

3. It is Okay to Take Things Slow 

Every person is different when it comes to learning. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself some time to learn the mechanism and the music. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect right from the beginning. 

4. Practice a Little Each Day

You can only get better at reading drum tabs when you do it every day. So go ahead and do that. Set aside some time every day to read and play some drums. It will get easier after a while. 

Summary

Reading drum tabs may seem overwhelming at first. But don’t get discouraged. A time will come where you will instantly recognize the acronyms, and your hands will follow. You need to practice a little every day. 

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