How To Read Drum Tabs

This lesson will cover how to read drum tabs. With the ever increasing online library of drum tablature, being able to read drum tabs is quickly becoming a basic skill for entry level drummers. Personally I prefer drum sheet music, because it has a fairly universal template and it's cleaner and easier to read.

I understand the appeal of tabs, they are much more accessible online and best of But for this reason, you may not always be getting accurate notation. And when you're learning how to read drum tabs, badly tabbed material can make it even harder. The photos below will demonstrate how to read a few different types of tabs, as well as point out some of the problems with trying to read them.

Photo taken from the Metallica Drum Tabs page.

At first glance, this tablature can look pretty confusing. Let's break it down piece by piece.

Each line corresponds to a different part of the drumset. The part is indicated by the letter in front of the line. So in the photo above, we have the letters, C S T1 T2 T3 and B. Most tabs will have a legend that explains the letters, but they are often not necessary. You can get your own free drum tab legend from my How To Read Drum Tabs chart. Below is a brief explanation.

C = cymbal
S = snare
T = tom and the number indicates first(high), second(mid) or third(floor)tom
B = bass

Now each line has a varying number of symbols. Above you'll see X, O, f, and t. Each symbol represents a different form of striking or method of attack. In the example above:

X = strike cymbal/hi hat
O = strike(in this case the bass)
f = flam
t = (what's often wrong with tabs) I must say I have never seen t used as a strike indicator within tablature. It is often used to denote a tom, but in that case it will come at the beginning of the line. So these are the problems that you sometimes run into when you first learn how to read drum tabs.

The dashes in between the X's, O',s and f's are used to notate 16th notes. They also match up with the numbers running across the bottom of the photo. You'll see 1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a. This is the basic method used to count whether you read tabs or read drum sheet music. You'll notice that in the first photo the count goes 1e&a2e&a3e&a while the second photo's count shows 1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a. This lets you know the time signature for the first beat is in 3/4 while the second is in 4/4. Learn more about Time Signatures and How To Count Music.

I included the photo above to show how messy and hard to read tabs can be sometimes. The music has been tabbed out in two measures but they are both run together so it looks like one large measure. You'll notice how the letters repeat from C H S B to C H S B. So again, one of my pet peeves with trying to teach you how to read drum tabs. Have I stressed how much easier it is to read sheet music yet? Ready to learn

Ready to learn How To Read Drum Music?

For more about drum sheet music and tabs, check out these pages:

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