Drum Tabs vs Drum sheet music (or whatever)


Platinum Member
In the end they mean the same, just different notation. When I wanna learn a new song, and I don't feel like transcribing it, I look it up online, usually find tabs, and then write it out in standard notation (in Finale).

Tab lends itself better to the internet because it can be written and displayed with a plain text editor; standard notation requires specialized software (and usually not free).

But tabs are hackish... a lot of things are difficult accurately portay (triplets, grace notes, etc.).


Senior Member
in a way .. sheet music is more professional ( are there any official drum books written in tab? i can't think of any) and more standardized, and with perfect timing ..

tabs are easier to post online ..

if you go to a gig where you have to read (pit for a play/ some high class jazz gig) your gonna get a chart or a book with real music written on it .. if you but a drum lesson book .. standard music notation .. so .. imo .. sheet music is far superior .. but tab is easier to find free crap...

i think there was a convo like this on here a few months ago .. and i think it turned ugly


Senior Member
Sheet music has written rests, whereas the spacing of notes in tab version is dependent directly on the exact size of the spacing on the page.

But there's alot of crossover in reading. Tabs are fine for a lot of rock, but sometimes triplets and 32 notes can be tricky to notate, depending on where they start and finish. I think tabs for songs in swung triplets would just be a nightmare to read - but I could be wrong, I don't want to try...

Have to be creative sometimes, couple of copypastas from my song folder having to throw in triplets:

1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a
H |----------------|----------------|----------------|
S |----------------|----------------|--------------F-|
B |----------------|----------------|-------------o--|

I had to write this myself on top of the bar because there'd be no way I'd remember (I usually write two 32nds as 'd')

d = 2nd two partials of triplet

I don't even want to think about notating slow triplets in 4/4...

I just use tabs for transcribing straight 8th rock songs, cause notepad is so handy and the song structures are often already laid out on a tab (I find I usually have to edit the tab, bar for bar, to get a remotely accurate transcription, and I'm no perfect transcriber...).

I use music notation for anything else, swing stuff, and making (and playing from) charts. Figure that'll be way more useful in the long run.


Platinum Member
Tab came about years ago because of the lack of affordablle music notation programs. So they used the typewriter or computer keyboard - x + - . Now that you can get affordable notation programs, there really is no need for tab. As mentioned earlier, you will not go to a store and buy a book of drum tab or find tab in magazines such as Modern Drummer. Also as stated, you definitely will not get on a gig and find the leader passing out tabs. He/she will have charts that have actual musical notation.



Gold Member
Tabs are good to know how to read. I use them when learning a new song for a drum cover or something. But if it's a professional situation then I recommend using sheet music. Like others have said, tabs can be more confusing, and their just not very professional.

Hint: If you're going to print out a tab, don't print it directly from the site (It's very small and hard to read). Copy and paste it into a word document. Then get the size as big as possible without having 1 tab line take up 2 of the document lines. Then bold it. Then print it and it's sooooo much easier to read.


Platinum Member
I should dig up my old post about "tabs" being bastard notation suitable only for email and the creation of musical cripples. Or something like that. It was pretty educational.

Anyway, what Jeff said- they're nothing more than a hack for communicating basic drum parts in ASCII. They are not a replacement for, or alternative to standard musical notation. They really have no place in the professional music world, as far as I know.


Senior Member
Like others have said tabs are not the same as sheet music, sheet music being prefered.
Tabs are very handy though because for every piece of drum sheet music online there are a 100 tabs. Which means that if you want to cover a song you will most likely won't find sheet music for it and would have to rely on a tab (or better, do it by ear). Just be sure to check if the tab is actually correct. I can't count how many times a tab was way off the money. So use with caution!


Senior Member
good thread...I don't like tabs at all, the little (---) throw me off, I prefer sheet music, I was a music major in college ( a million years ago), im just more comfortable reading standard, I wish i could find more of it for the songs I want though.


Gold Member
I just read through some posts. I never knew that people used tabs for drum patterns. Writing it like that makes no sense to me. When I write down pattern I would always just write it like sheet music but without the staff. Tabs don't seem practical at all.


Gold Member
The thing about tabs and sheet music is that sheet music has proven to be a more effective form of notation. It has a graphical and design advantage over tablature that allows it to be read more easily with less training. The rhythms can be written into the notes them selves and without the aid of a reference under or over the staff.

God have mercy on the man who writes a 9/8 tab.
Tab writing is like shorthand. Which has it's place I suppose.

My problem with drum tabs is that is does not show note values. It shows bars in 16th notes and the attacks within that bar, but not how long each note rings out. In other words, it can't show 'phrasing' as well as standard notation.

The system of notation we use has been flushed out over what, 300 years now? It is almost perfect...and is by far the most workable.

I would tell any student that it is ok to use tabs, but they still need to learn to read sheet music if they want to communicate with other musicians.


Senior Member
There's one thing I would like to add to the discussion. I'm amazed how so many people find sheet music easier to read then tabs. The amount of notation options in sheet music are larger than with tabs. The moment I saw my first drum tab I could read it. No training required. That's why tabs attract so many people because they don't require you to understand note values one simply has to look at the sequence. You don't even have to memorize which line of the " staff " represents which part of the drum set because it is notated together with that line.

In short tabs are simpler and therefore easier to understand when compared to sheet music. Unless of course you grew up with music theory. Int hat case sheet music is second nature and you would have to adjust to tabs.


Senior Member
so who turns your sheet music while you are playing?
Typically with sheet music you'll only have 1 or two pages, even with really long songs because sheet music has tools just to say, repeat this section, or repeat the measure before this.


Gold Member
so who turns your sheet music while you are playing?
I either memorize enough around the page turns so I turn it when I have a bunch of rests or I get several copies and lay them out in order.

Most of the time, such as for jazz, I just memorize the structure and go from there since all I ever got were bass or melody sheet music.