Newbie with a non-newbie question

GCRoberts

Well-known member
I just started taking lessons 6 weeks ago and I’m a few lessons away from hitting my first tom. However, the engineer in me has be looking at things that I have no business investigating yet! When I look at the drum notation (see link below), I see that five Toms can be written using standard drum notation. The first two toms (1,2) are grouped “above” the snare, while the other three (3,4,5) are grouped below. My gut feeling would be to think that a “complete” drum kit would have two mounted toms and three floor toms so you have the correct drums to play any song. I haven’t seen many 2up3down kits, so there goes that theory! I have seen a few 3up2down setups. I guess that would make sense if you ignore the “grouping” and the mounted toms are 1,2,3 while the floor toms are 4,5. The most common setups seem to be 1up1down, 1up2down, 2up1down. My Pearl starter kit is 2up1down. Can anyone explain exactly how this works, or point me to an article that covers my knowledge gaps. I’m guessing most songs just stick to two toms, but that’s just a guess. I sure don’t want to ask my instructor this question as I’m really trying to spend lesson time learning the basics. Thanks!

https://drummagazine.com/drum-notation-guide/
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Yeah. You're dwelling on stuff that's not important yet. Your first order of business is getting your hands and feet together to function, and then playing grooves that are steady and feel good (notice how all these things don't require any note-reading knowledge yet). I say jump on that bandwagon and stay there. Too many people get hung up on written-note minutiae, completely neglecting playing good time and making things feel good. So let's put the cart back behind the horse.

(I'm sure someone will chime in and say I'm completely wrong, but that's ok).
 

SYMBOLIC DEATH

Senior Member
Bo might be completely wrong, but I can guarantee that I am wrong about how sheet music is written.
I thought that there isn't a "set/fixed way" with regards to how the notes are written on the staff, and that's where the key/legend comes into play to let you know what note corresponds to which drum/cymbal.
At least that's what some older boys told me.
 

GCRoberts

Well-known member
Yeah. You're dwelling on stuff that's not important yet. Your first order of business is getting your hands and feet together to function, and then playing grooves that are steady and feel good (notice how all these things don't require any note-reading knowledge yet). I say jump on that bandwagon and stay there. Too many people get hung up on written-note minutiae, completely neglecting playing good time and making things feel good. So let's put the cart back behind the horse.

(I'm sure someone will chime in and say I'm completely wrong, but that's ok).
I'm not dwelling at all, I'm just curious. As far as note reading, I started with that in lesson #1. My instructor (who is very highly regarded in our area) is having me use the Hal Leonard FastTrack Drums 1 book. Everything I play is from reading Drum music. When I'm in my lesson and when I practice, I ONLY concentrate on the things I've learned from my instructor. But when I surf the web, I dabble in side topics. I think my question is quite valid.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Well-known member
well, Bo is probably wrong ( :cool: ).

but yeah, worry a bit more now about creating grooves from your head (via listening and copying great music), and then you will be ready to apply some of the concepts that are written down.

I am a band director/percussion instructor, so believe me, I am THE FIRST to say that people should know how to read music, but I also think there is some part of any instrument that also comes from listening and copying.

The issue is that there is no "standard" beyond notating a 5 piece kit, so you would have to adapt to what you see in music. I grew up playing a 4 piece...trying to play Rush, Styx, Kansas, Iron Maiden etc on a 4 piece is tough if I am reading the music. So I had to make up my own fills to fit what I was playing to, and sometimes had to adjust accordingly when reading the transcriptions. If it had not been for my listening in addition to reading, I would have been stumped.
 

GCRoberts

Well-known member
The issue is that there is no "standard" beyond notating a 5 piece kit, so you would have to adapt to what you see in music. I grew up playing a 4 piece...trying to play Rush, Styx, Kansas, Iron Maiden etc on a 4 piece is tough if I am reading the music. So I had to make up my own fills to fit what I was playing to, and sometimes had to adjust accordingly when reading the transcriptions. If it had not been for my listening in addition to reading, I would have been stumped.
Makes sense, thanks.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Well-known member
Makes sense, thanks.

yeah...it is funny that other instruments have managed to come up with a pretty well accepted standards of notating their sounds, but percussion is more "fluid" in what we can use to make sounds....think about a snare drum itself. It can create more than 10 sounds on it's own...

I write and arrange as well, so many times, I have to use brief descriptions for sounds when I run out of ways on a standard 5 line staff.
 

timmdrum

Silver Member
The standard/accepted kit notation comes from before there were commonly more toms than available lines & spaces on the staff. I seem to recall seeing an eon ago somewhere, a key/legend on a transcribed piece that called for more toms (Rush? Cobham/Mahavishnu? late 80's Metallica?) than there was room on the staff, that stated that the reader/listener/player would have to orchestrate the notated tom fills on fewer/additional drums (depending on the player's kit) because of the staff's limitations.
 

JUZZI

Well-known member
I just started taking lessons 6 weeks ago and I’m a few lessons away from hitting my first tom. However, the engineer in me has be looking at things that I have no business investigating yet! When I look at the drum notation (see link below), I see that five Toms can be written using standard drum notation. The first two toms (1,2) are grouped “above” the snare, while the other three (3,4,5) are grouped below. My gut feeling would be to think that a “complete” drum kit would have two mounted toms and three floor toms so you have the correct drums to play any song. I haven’t seen many 2up3down kits, so there goes that theory! I have seen a few 3up2down setups. I guess that would make sense if you ignore the “grouping” and the mounted toms are 1,2,3 while the floor toms are 4,5. The most common setups seem to be 1up1down, 1up2down, 2up1down. My Pearl starter kit is 2up1down. Can anyone explain exactly how this works, or point me to an article that covers my knowledge gaps. I’m guessing most songs just stick to two toms, but that’s just a guess. I sure don’t want to ask my instructor this question as I’m really trying to spend lesson time learning the basics. Thanks!

https://drummagazine.com/drum-notation-guide/

music notation.png

Most drum notations will have a line for high tom, a line for medium tom and a line for the floor tom. (see above)

So think of it as a standard drum kit set up that will usually have 2 rack toms (smallest is high, the bigger one is medium) and one floor tom (low tom)

I'd say make your drum kit set up like this for now to start you off while your learning the foundations and basics. Forget adding additional toms until you get your head round this. Once you have, then you can add extra toms if you wish, incorporate extra added rack toms into your high and medium notes and extra added floor toms into your low notes, adapt as needed.
It is much better to learn songs by ear though and figure out which tom sounds the nearest to replicate the song, don't become too reliant on music sheets 100% of the time. It'll be a big hole to climb out of when a band give you a drum track to learn over night and you panic when there is no sheet music to go with it, trust me!

Your idea of a “complete” drum kit having two mounted toms and three floor toms is not a common set up at all, most of the time only one floor tom is needed.

I personally think your drum kit set up should kinda lean towards what type of music you are playing. If you're gonna be doing pop, indie rock, punk, rnb, funk, it may matter less about toms for fills and more about just groove (playing mainly on the snare, hi-hat and crash) therefore you can keep your kit to a minimum rather than having unnecessary and unused parts on your kit. If your gonna want to play heavier rock or metal, it may be totally necessary and complimentary to the music to add extra dynamics and to have more surfaces to play on e.g. adding more toms/cymbals... it all depends!

I agree with the others and really wouldn't focus on this stuff just yet.
 
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brentcn

Platinum Member
The rule is: rack toms above the snare, but below the hi-hat and ride, and floor toms below the snare, but above the bass drum notes.

Drum set notation is a relatively new thing, because the drum set is a relatively new instrument. So, the notation conventions aren't as consistent as, say, violin or piano. So, if you you see something that differs a little bit, look for a guide or key somewhere on the page. You may also see one or more individual lines, instead of the traditional staff. But, everything should be explained on the page, or in the beginning of the book.

The inconsistency is probably going to bother your engineer brain -- welcome to music! :)
 

GCRoberts

Well-known member
The inconsistency is probably going to bother your engineer brain -- welcome to music! :)
Yes, it does. But now that I understand it, I'm feeling much better about it. A lot of people (not yourself) seemed to think I shouldn't care about this until a much later date, but I disagree totally. While I won't be buying a new drum kit this year, I'm planning on one for next year (assuming I continue to take the drums as seriously as I have so far). When I buy a kit next year, I want to buy one that is either "complete" or more likely "upgrade-able". For example, if I buy a DW Performance 5-piece kit that comes with 10" and 12" mounted toms and 14" and 16" floor toms, it looks like I'll have a kit that can play basically anything. Of course I need to purchase a snare at the same time. But let's say there's a song that really would sound better with an 18" floor tom on some of the fills. No problem, I can still buy a "perfectly matched" 18" tom to add to my kit. Or in the other direction, maybe a 8" mounted tom would sound better on something I'm playing, I can buy a "perfectly matched" 8" tom as well. But what if I bought another manufacturer's kit that didn't offer a 8" or 18" tom. Or if they did offer it, you had to special order it at a higher price, maybe even having to choose a different finish. Sure, you can always buy a tom from another manufacturer that doesn't match, but that would drive me crazy! I'm VERY focused right now on learning drums the right way, but I also want to reward that work with a new drum kit next year. When I buy that kit, I don't want to have any buyer's remorse. I wish I had taken as serious of an approach in my youth when I was learning guitar.
 

Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Well-known member
Yes, it does. But now that I understand it, I'm feeling much better about it. A lot of people (not yourself) seemed to think I shouldn't care about this until a much later date, but I disagree totally. While I won't be buying a new drum kit this year, I'm planning on one for next year (assuming I continue to take the drums as seriously as I have so far). When I buy a kit next year, I want to buy one that is either "complete" or more likely "upgrade-able". For example, if I buy a DW Performance 5-piece kit that comes with 10" and 12" mounted toms and 14" and 16" floor toms, it looks like I'll have a kit that can play basically anything. Of course I need to purchase a snare at the same time. But let's say there's a song that really would sound better with an 18" floor tom on some of the fills. No problem, I can still buy a "perfectly matched" 18" tom to add to my kit. Or in the other direction, maybe a 8" mounted tom would sound better on something I'm playing, I can buy a "perfectly matched" 8" tom as well. But what if I bought another manufacturer's kit that didn't offer a 8" or 18" tom. Or if they did offer it, you had to special order it at a higher price, maybe even having to choose a different finish. Sure, you can always buy a tom from another manufacturer that doesn't match, but that would drive me crazy! I'm VERY focused right now on learning drums the right way, but I also want to reward that work with a new drum kit next year. When I buy that kit, I don't want to have any buyer's remorse. I wish I had taken as serious of an approach in my youth when I was learning guitar.

well, like any technology, as soon as you get the kit, it will be "outdated"...meaning that they will come up with a kit that is "more inviting", but not necessarily better. When I bought my first "real" kit in 94 (Pearl Master Custom Maple 6 piece), I thought "this is it. This will cover everything." Then Tama Starclassics came out....and I discovered Ayotte Custom drums...I did not have remorse, but I definitely started looking for "the mistress"...

So definitely research, and buy what sounds good to you, but don't worry about buyers remorse, because there is always N+1. :cool: Right now I have 2 kits, and 34 cymbals because of N+1. That is part of what makes drumming fun!!
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Yes, it does. But now that I understand it, I'm feeling much better about it. A lot of people (not yourself) seemed to think I shouldn't care about this until a much later date, but I disagree totally. While I won't be buying a new drum kit this year, I'm planning on one for next year (assuming I continue to take the drums as seriously as I have so far). When I buy a kit next year, I want to buy one that is either "complete" or more likely "upgrade-able". For example, if I buy a DW Performance 5-piece kit that comes with 10" and 12" mounted toms and 14" and 16" floor toms, it looks like I'll have a kit that can play basically anything. Of course I need to purchase a snare at the same time. But let's say there's a song that really would sound better with an 18" floor tom on some of the fills. No problem, I can still buy a "perfectly matched" 18" tom to add to my kit. Or in the other direction, maybe a 8" mounted tom would sound better on something I'm playing, I can buy a "perfectly matched" 8" tom as well. But what if I bought another manufacturer's kit that didn't offer a 8" or 18" tom. Or if they did offer it, you had to special order it at a higher price, maybe even having to choose a different finish. Sure, you can always buy a tom from another manufacturer that doesn't match, but that would drive me crazy! I'm VERY focused right now on learning drums the right way, but I also want to reward that work with a new drum kit next year. When I buy that kit, I don't want to have any buyer's remorse. I wish I had taken as serious of an approach in my youth when I was learning guitar.

Eh, just buy something with a few toms, and try not to get bogged down by matching your toms exactly to every fill you encounter. There are just so many fills, and set ups vary widely from band to band, and drummer to drummer.

However, it is important that your fills follow the "contour" or "shape" of the fill you're trying to replicate, i.e. on the toms, high to low, on the toms, low to high, snare to toms, tom to snare, etc. This will help your fills to sound appropriate, even if they are not 100% accurate with respect to tom size or number of toms.

It's also necessary to learn how to create your own fills, because it will help you to think along the same lines as the drummer you're emulating, and to approximate something that's very close, when an exact match isn't feasible. When learning to improvise your own fills, it can be a bit overwhelming to start off on a 3 up, 2 down kit. Having too many options will confuse the learning process. Keep it down to two or three toms, at least for a while.
 
There are hardly enough staffs on one page to notate every single item of this set, so don't worry:
If you really want a big set in the future, I'd look for Yamaha Stage Customs - there are 8" and 18" toms, they are perfectly fine for everybody and they won't ruin you, so you'll have enough money left to hire a roadie to carry all that stuff to concerts. Until then, appreciate the beauty of playing grooves. ;)
 

timmdrum

Silver Member
View attachment 90617

Most drum notations will have a line for high tom, a line for medium tom and a line for the floor tom. (see above)

So think of it as a standard drum kit set up that will usually have 2 rack toms (smallest is high, the bigger one is medium) and one floor tom (low tom)
I'll add that it's fairly common (for transcriptions of music that calls for it) for a 2nd FT notated on the line under the 1st FT space. Also, I've seen hats and ride notated in different places- ride right on the top line, hats in the space above as you have it pictured. Some have those vice versa (ex. Drum! Magazine)
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
For most purposes, which tom you hit in which order isn't all that important, and since every drumkit is different, it's not really possible to notate for every setup precisely. As drummers we focus on the what and when more than the literal specific tom or cymbal sound.

So even once you start hitting toms from your book work, try not to get so hung up on the specifics. Remember that even two toms of the same size won't sound identical, and that's before you even start to get into the drumhead effects, different sticks, and different techniques. Think in terms of the music and the rhythms you're trying to convey.

As a for example, I played a gig in downtown SF a few weeks back where the house kit only had one rack tom low tuned and setup as the floor tom. I had to convert my parts on the fly and it wasn't really difficult, nobody even really noticed even though I myself have written my parts with two toms in mind.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
it’s just a convention to have the snare on the bass clef E line and the bass drum on the A, and everything else fits around that. It’s so rare to have music written with exact tom tom parts where it actually matters which drum you hit, there’s no point in changing the convention. Like I’ve never been given a drum set part that was completely written out and I was supposed to play it exactly.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
it’s just a convention to have the snare on the bass clef E line and the bass drum on the A, and everything else fits around that. It’s so rare to have music written with exact tom tom parts where it actually matters which drum you hit, there’s no point in changing the convention. Like I’ve never been given a drum set part that was completely written out and I was supposed to play it exactly.
I've only seen it a time or two myself, and those were either someone explaining a fancy fill, or some type of exercise that for whatever reason dealt with specific tom sounds. A key was included I think in both cases so there wasn't confusion about what line meant what.
 
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