Learning to read drum music notation is often an intimidating thought to a lot of hobbyist drummers. The good news though, is that it may not be quite the undertaking that you might have thought. This article should help explain the benefits, and there is also a video blog on this very popular topic.
Certainly, a question that I get asked often is “Why is it important to read music?” Most understand why a professional drummer should be able to read music, but why should it be important to the hobbyist drummer who, for the most part, just wants to get up and running playing the drums as quickly as possible?
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Well firstly, let me be clear in saying that you absolutely do not have to learn to read music notation, and Drum Ambition has certainly been designed to cater for those who do, and those who do not. In fact, in the world today, there are hundreds of thousands of very good drummers that are completely unschooled with regard to reading, technique, and musicality. However, it is important to emphasize that good drummers have developed their craft over years of playing, practicing, listening, and learning.
As a hobbyist drummer, our assumption is that you want to learn, you want to progress, and you want to start playing the drums competently, as quickly and as pain free as possible. Why complicate things by essentially learning a new language at the same time?
My answer to this, is because it will make the learning experience more understandable, and help you achieve your goals quicker. At my teaching studio in San Diego, I have encountered many students over the years who have had an initial resistance to learning to read, but most are won over quickly when they start to see, and personally experience the benefits.
The other thing that I should say straight away is that it really isn’t that hard. Yes, it will take practice, but the notation videos in module one of Drum Ambition really do walk you slowly through the fundamentals. There is a little bit of math involved, but if you can handle basic fractions, then I assure you - you can do this!
So what are the benefits? Well firstly, drumming is about understanding rhythm, and rhythm is learned through counting. You will hear me talk a lot about this in the videos you are watching. There is a very famous saying - “If you can count it, you can play it”. There’s a little bit more to it than that as we’ll talk about, but for the most part, I agree.
When you learn to count music, the next logical step is understanding which hands play which notes. In drumming, we call that "sticking", and this sticking concept is indeed a wonderful thing. Why? - because it helps build control, and without this, you will never fully be able to have true musical expression on a drum set. Put more plainly, you’ll often fall over yourself when you try and play freely, and that can be frustrating.
When you start taking a closer look at sticking, you become more aware of what your hands are doing, and how you are holding and gripping the stick. This builds technique, and eventually enhances control.
There are many other great things that come from control. Musicality, dynamics, endurance, speed, power - all of these are byproducts of control which is all learned through being able to count, apply sticking, and yes, you guessed it, understand the notation. Yes, it is true that you can choose to not take this path, but understand that you will be increasing your learning time.
By understanding music notation, you will also be able to communicate with other musicians, have access to the myriad of great resources available to you, and if your goal is to take your drumming to a higher level, then you will most certainly be more employable. But for the purpose of learning, it really just makes the experience more understandable, and will set you off on the right track to becoming a more rounded, musical drummer. It is also worth noting that reading takes away the need to commit every note, groove and drum fill to memory - something you will be glad of in the early days of drumming.
I will conclude by telling you that I was a completely self taught drummer up until my mid-twenties. I didn’t go to music college, and I never learned to read music until my first professional engagement as a drummer forced the issue. I played the drums on a cruise ship for four months, and realized that all the other drummers on the ship were much better than me. They had a touch, and a sophistication to their playing that I could not comprehend. Unsurprisingly, they were all trained drummers, who could read music. So I returned to London after my first contract, and got stuck in to taking lessons - something I would continue to do for the next twenty years. I wish I had done it earlier. This video tells more of this story.
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