An Introduction To Sight Reading




If you’ve always wanted to learn how to sight read but you’re unsure where to start, start here by learning the basics. Sight reading doesn’t need to be complicated, and that’s why I want to help you to learn sight reading basics. Having the ability to sight read has helped me grow as a musician over the years, and I want to help you be a better musician. Let’s start with understanding what all these lines, notes and bars are for.


5 Bar Staff / Stave:


In music notation the “staff” is a set of horizontal lines, with 5 lines and four spaces that represent different percussion and drum instruments. The sound of the drum kit that is made depends on where the note is place on the staff.



5 Bar Staff

Bar Lines:


In addition to horizontal staff lines, sheet music also uses vertical lines to help you keep track of where you are in the music. Kind like using commas and periods when you're writing.


Think of the music staff like a story. When we write a story we can split it into words sentences and paragraphs. These smaller units of time help you count the beat and know where you are in the song at all times. A bar line divides music into measures (aka bars), splitting up the musical composition into smaller, measurable groups of notes and rests. The measure in between bar lines is composed with the total possible amount of notes according to what our time signature is. Here's an example of different kinds of bar lines below:


Bar Lines


Single Bar Line: Go to the next measure.

Double Bar Line: Go to the next section (at the end of this one)

Start repeat Symbol: Repeat back to this measure.

End repeat Symbol: Repeat back to the measure that begins with a start repeat, or go to the beginning if you don’t see a start repeat.


Neutral / Percussion Clef:


The neutral or percussion clef (two vertical lines) is an assembly that illustrates the lines and spaces in the staff that are assigned to a percussion instrument with no exact pitch. Staffs with the percussion clef do not always have 5 lines. However, if we’re reading a snare drum line or a tambourine, it will only have 1. But, since we’re talking about how to sight read drum kit, it the staff will contain 5 lines.



Drum Key or Drum Legend:


Each line and space of the staff represent a different part of the drum kit. Depending on how the musician has labelled their music, there will be slight differences. Generally, the drum legend will have every different part of the kit laid out. As you can see below:



Drum Legend


Cymbals are usually marked with “x” as the head of the note. The bell of the ride or a crash cymbal may also be notated with a triangle or a diamond. Today we’re looking at the basics of sight reading, so for now we’ll focus on the basics.



Basic Cymbal Legend


Time Signatures:


Simple time signatures contain two numbers. One number on top of another number. The lower number represents the note value of 1 beat. The upper number represents how many beats make a bar.


2/4 means two quarter-notes per bar, and 3/8 means 3 eighth-notes per bar. Compound time signatures also exist, but we’ll keep it simple for now.


Now you’re probably wondering, what’s a quarter note? What's an eighth note? Which leads me to the next section on the introduction to sight reading. Note values!



Note Values:


For the sake of understanding the basics of sight reading we’ll talk about 3 different common note values drummers use in a bar of 4/4 time: the quarter note, the eighth note, and the sixteenth note.



Quarter Note:


A quarter note in a measure of 4/4 time, is a note played for one quarter of the duration in that measure. We can place four quarter notes in this amount of time, hence the name quarter note. Quarter notes are a black oval dot with a line sticking out of it. The line (stem) is to be drawn off to the right of the black oval head. When you're counting quarter notes you just simply count to four. 1,2,3,4. Pretty simple concept, right?





Eighth Note:



An eighth note in a measure of 4/4 time, is a note played for one eighth of the duration in that measure. We can place 8 eighth notes in this amount of time, hence the name eighth note. Eighth notes look like a black oval dot with a line and a little flag draped off of it. A stem is to be drawn off to the right of the black oval head. The way we count eighth notes is as follows: 1, and, 2, and, 3, and, 4, and. Similar to how we count the quarter notes, but we add "and" in between each number.




When you group together two eighth notes they are joined together with a black bar across the top of them. It will look something like this. The flags from the individual eighth notes turn into a black bar.







Sixteenth Note:


The sixteenth note in a measure of 4/4 time, is a note played for half the duration of an eighth note. Similar to the eighth notes flags, the sixteenth note has not one but two of them. Like all of the other note values the stem is drawn off to the right of the note head. We can place sixteen sixteenth notes in this amount of time, hence the name sixteenth notes. Sixteenth note look like a black oval dot with a line and two little flags off of it.


The way we count sixteenth notes are as follows: 1 e and a, 2 e and a, 3 e and a, 4 e and a. Another way to write that out is like this: 1 e + a, 2 e + a, 3 e + a, 4 e + a.


When you group 2 or more sixteenth notes together, they are joined together with two black bars over the top of them. Double the amount of bars that we use to join together two eighth notes. It looks like this.





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