Understanding Notes

All music can be divided into two parts: sound and silence. Notes represent the sounds a musician makes; rests indicate silence. Both are written on a staff, a set of five parallel lines on which a composer writes notes, rests, and other musical symbols. Figure 2-1 shows you a blank staff.

FIGURE 2-1: A blank staff

The lines and spaces on a staff represent pitch varieties, and a clef is used to name each line and space. The most common clefs are treble, or G, clef and bass, or F, clef. However, since most drums are indefinite pitched instruments, you will use a neutral clef and follow an instrument legend. For example, look at the spaces on the staff in Figure 2-1. On a drum set, the bottom space is used for the bass drum. One space above this is used for the floor tom-tom. The next space up is used for the snare drum, and the top space is used for the first rack tom-tom (usually a 10″- or 12″-diameter drum). The lines also indicate specific instruments on the drum set. This information is shown to you in Figure 2-2. Be certain to check back and review this legend when you begin playing drum set beats, fills, and solos. You will need to reference this information often, especially in the early stages.

Drummers must be experts with rhythm. After all, we are rhythmatists! In standard notation, a note is made up of a note head and a note stem. A note head is seen either as an empty circle (whole or half notes) or as a colored-in dot (all other notes). A note stem is a vertical line attached to the note head. Sometimes notes are connected or barred together by a single horizontal line—this is used to indicate eighth notes. Sometimes, you will see a double horizontal line—this is used to indicate sixteenth notes. Some single notes have a wavy line that curves down the stem—this is called a flag. A single flag is used to signify single eighth notes. A double flag is used to signify single sixteenth notes. All of these note types are shown in Figure 2-3.


FIGURE 2-2: Drum set legend

Notice that individual eighth notes look exactly the same as quarter notes, but with a flag attached to it. The individual sixteenth note also looks like the quarter note, but with two flags attached to it.

FIGURE 2-3: Types of notes

Table of Notes

Standard notation is based on mathematics and follows the same rules as fractions. Figure 2-4 shows you the division of notes.

As you can see, notes divide into two equal parts. A whole note divides into two half notes; a half note divides into two quarter notes; a quarter note divides into two eighth notes; and an eighth note divides into two sixteenth notes. When making these divisions, a 1:2 ratio occurs between the whole and half note, the half and quarter note, the quarter and eighth note, and the eighth and sixteenth note.

FIGURE 2-4: Divisional relationship of notes

In the United Kingdom, notes have different names. A whole note is called a semibreve; a half note a minim; a quarter note a crochet; an eighth note a quaver; and a sixteenth note a semiquaver. Don't be confused by this and, unless you live in England, avoid these terms.

The pie charts in Figures 2-5 through 2-8 show you the divisional relationship of notes.

FIGURE 2-5: Two half notes

FIGURE 2-6: Four quarter notes

FIGURE 2-7: Eight eighth notes

FIGURE 2-8: Sixteen sixteenth notes

You can see that two half notes equals the whole pie; four quarter notes equals the whole pie; eight eighth notes equals the whole pie; and sixteen sixteenth notes equals the whole pie. This is the mathematical backbone of notation.

Reading Rests

Rests function exactly the same way as notes, but with one key difference: While a note signifies sound, a rest means silence. A rest does not mean to pause. The music continues whether you're resting or not (or whether there is sound or not). Think of a rest as a silent note.

When resting, always follow the music the same as if you were playing. Every note has a corresponding rest and rests have the same relationship to one another as notes do. Figure 2-9 shows each type of rest as it is divided from whole to sixteenth.

FIGURE 2-9: Divisional relationship of rests

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