Basic Drum Notation Tips


I’ve just had the very frustrating experience of scoring the drum part for half of an entire musical theater score, and doing it wrong. Arghh! I got some bad advice so I’m posting some clarification here for other arrangers that are new to scoring drum parts. Hopefully this will save you some headaches.

First of all, it’s true, follow this advice: Drum parts played with sticks are stems up and drum parts played with the feet are stems down. The helpful reason for an arranger is that you can clearly see what is impractical to play. A drummer has two sticks so they can only hit two hand items at a time. If they are doing a cymbal swell or snare roll, it will be very clear that their hands are taken up for that notation. The stems down parts for the feet will normally be either kick drum or the hi-hat pedal triggered with the other foot.

Here is an example from one of my scores that has been properly fixed with kick and hi-hat pedal stems down. The elements played with the hands and sticks (snare and cymbal) are stems up.



Here is a drum sample from a Broadway score that shows kick drum and hit hat pedal stems down, with snare and cymbals stems up.



And here is a sample from a Broadway drum score showing kick pedal stems down with rim click as an “x” notation along with cymbals.





There is an excellent and quick drum tutorial by Tom Rudolph for Sibelius located here:

I had the pleasure of taking a Sibelius course with him several years ago at Berklee School of Music online. Take a look at his quick tutorial, remember from drum notation that “feet are stems down” and “hands are stems up” and you’re on your way. I’ve also found it invaluable to reference some Broadway scores on the drum parts. So the big lesson here is to reference the work of the top pros for your notation practices.

One more Sibelius tip (and probably works for Finale also) – if you want repeated measures. I made the mistake of copying drum parts to a measure, hiding the notation and then pasting a repeat sign over it. The problem is that if you make a change to the initial measure before the repeat, then you have to change all the subsequent repeated measures to match it. In Sibelius, under tab 5 (In Sibelius 6) of the keypad navigator there is the option for one or two measure repeats. In other words, it will automatically repeat a one or two measure phrase. Very handy for the drum part – then if you change the initial measure, all the repeats will also reflect that change.

If this helped you please let me know. And if you have other drum tips or insights please leave a message and let me know about that too!


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