Learning to read drum music notation is often an intimidating thought for many beginner drummers. The good news is that it's really not as difficult as you might think, and as you will read, the huge benefits are well worth the extra effort.
As well as being the universal language of musicians everywhere, understanding music notation can help make your learning experience productive, efficient, and above all, more fun. Don't underestimate that last point. Keeping a hobby or interest fun is the absolute key to success, and at Drum Ambition, we are all about keeping the "fun" in the fundamentals. OK, cheesy jokes aside, let's dive in.
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Do you have to learn to read music to play the drums?
This is a great question that we get asked all the time. Most beginner drummers 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, wants to start playing the drums as quickly as possible? You absolutely do not have to learn to read music notation. Drum Ambition has certainly been designed to cater to those who do want to and equally for those who do not. In fact, today, there are hundreds of thousands of excellent drummers who did not learn to read music notation. However, it is important to emphasize that these drummers have developed their craft over many years of playing, practicing, listening, and learning from their mistakes. We advise you to use the tools available to have fun and develop as quickly as possible without taking counterproductive shortcuts. Understanding music notation can help.
Is it hard to read drum music notation?
The simple truth is that learning to read drum notation will make the learning experience more understandable and help you achieve your goals quicker. We have encountered many students who have had an initial resistance to learning to read music notation. Still, most are won over quickly when they see and personally experience the benefits. Also, it really isn’t that hard when approached in a structured and methodical way. Yes, it will take practice, but the 10 notation videos in Module One of Drum Ambition walk you slowly through the fundamentals and armed with these essentials, you'll be able to understand all of the notation in our 5 Modules and set yourself up for a positive and fun learning experience.
So what are the benefits?
Firstly, drumming is about understanding rhythm, and rhythm is learned through counting. There is a very famous saying - “If you can count it, you can play it.” There’s a little more to it than that, as we’ll talk about, but this is true for the most part. When you learn to count music, the next logical step is understanding which hand plays which note. In drumming, we call that sticking, and this concept is indeed a wonderful thing. Why? - because it helps build control, and without this, you will never fully 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.
The byproducts of control are all traced back to music notation.
Many other great things come from control. Musicality, dynamics, endurance, speed, power - all of these are byproducts of control, which are all learned through being able to count, apply sticking, and yes, you guessed it, understanding the notation. As we have discussed, you can indeed choose not to take this path, but you can eventually expect to experience a plateau in your development. You can also potentially develop some bad habits along the way.
By understanding music notation, you will also be able to communicate with other musicians and access the myriad of great resources available to you. If your goal is to take your drumming to a higher level, you will most certainly be more employable. But for 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.
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