Sight Reading Tutorials

Separate the Rhythm from the Sticking

In this tutorial we are just going to work on learning and practicing the skills to interpret the rhythms in drum scores, not on the sticking.  So you can put down your sticks for now.

Train the Brain

Before sight reading becomes 2nd nature, you need to lay the foundation for understanding the written rhythms.  I will assume you already know the mechanics of how to interpret a score:

bulletwhat the time signature is
bulletquarter, eights, sixteenths, dotted notes, and triplets
bulletstructural things like 'parts', repeat bars, ending variations

The trick is integrating all those spots on a page into the correct rhythmic pattern.  Fortunately for beginning drummers there are a lot of reoccurring rhythmic patterns.  At some point you start to recognize them and things get easier.

The hope of this tutorial is to expose you to enough of these patterns to help build your recognition skills, and at the same time not bore you to tears.  But warning: repetition is necessary to train the brain.

Taping Your Foot to Notes on the Page

Obvious: Tap your foot to each beat in the measure.  When you are learning a score, find the notes that fall on the beats and make sure they happen when your foot hits the ground.

Subtle help: Some score writing tools, like DrumNote, have a rhythm proportional spacing feature.  For example, a quarter note has twice the duration of an eight note; so on the score, a quarter note takes up twice as much space as an eight note.  Also, triplets are compacted appropriately. 

Sad but True: Almost every hand written score I've ever seen has had some timing error on it; the beats in some measure didn't add up.  Be on guard, but be humble when you find them.

Develop a Common Drum Language

When you are just starting out rhythms can be hard to figure out.  But fortunately there is a rudimentary rhythm language used by drummers (and dancers) to help decipher them.  It includes phrases like "trip-o-let", "1-and-2-and-3", "dot-cut", and "1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a". 

I found this language a bit lacking when it came to describing snare drum rolls.  So I added some extra phrases and documented my understanding in a starter slide set, Drum Talk

This system is a handy reasoning tool to figure things out in the first place, but also it is helpful when trying to communicate some pattern to another drummer. 

Understanding and Recognizing the Rhythms

Look at the following scores and try to speak and tap out the rhythms with your finger. The first score is the rhythm for the first part of Scotland the Brave.  You should know how that goes, right?  Before you look at the score, answer this question, what are the durations of the first two notes?

Scotland the Brave




Look at the following scores and figure out the Drum Talk rhythms.  Once you think you have got it, try testing yourself by taping and rapping with the audio.

single stroke patterns
updated April 15, 2008.


part #1
part #2


5-7-13 stroke rolls
updated April 17, 2008


part #1


Here are the scores with my Drum Talk annotations: scores w/DrumTalk.

Other Sources

If you own Blair 'Buzz' Brown's book "Scores for the Grade 4 Drummer", look at the exercise, Metered Single Strokes.  This book is a bit spendy, but I think this exercise is the approach to take.  Lots of short phrases combined in lots of permutations. 

Let me know if this helps patrickH.

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