Tag Archives: backup musicians


The Challenge of Notating Drums

One of the exciting things I have on my ever growing project list is to notate the music of The 5 Dragon Daughter.  We would like to have the option of licensing the show and notation will be necessary before we can do that.  We also happen to be looking for backup musicians to fill in for our current performers when they are unavailable due to scheduling conflicts, or are otherwise indisposed.  Notating the music is a tedious process and one that I have developed a love/hate relationship with.  The final product is fabulous to look at, but the process is so time consuming that I often cringe at the thought!

The most time consuming of the notation tasks is putting the drums on the staff.  Listening to each measure with a focused ear, counting “one-ee-and-ah, two-ee-and-ah, three-ee-and-ah, four-ee-and-ah,” while jotting down the tom hits, snares, hi-hats, crashes, rides, kicks, and any other various noises that a drum set can make, is the very definition of tedium!  Luckily, I’ve developed a system to speed along the task.

We are lucky enough to have a great sound guy who has multi-tracked several of our live performances.  Using those recordings I can drop everything out of the mix except for the drums and the lead vocal line.  The vocal line gives me a reference so I know where I’m at in the song, and then with little else in the mix I can focus on writing out the groove that our drummer lays down.  

Studio One 2, drum tracks and bars marked out.

Studio One 2, drum tracks and bars marked out.

I use Studio One Version 2.0 for my DAW and add markers to the tracks indicating where the current bar I’m on begins, where the counts for the bar are, and where it ends.  This creates a great visual framework for me to quickly identify the tom, snare, kick, and hi-hat hits.  I have to rely on notating cymbals by ear as we don’t have those individually miked.  But hey, that’s not too bad.

Notating Drums with Sibelius 6

Here we see the measure that I’m currently notating from the prior screen shot of Studio One 2 (Drums at the bottom)

While I’m looking at Studio One 2 I have Sibelius 6 open on my second monitor.  With the two programs side by side, it makes drum notation MUCH MUCH easier.  It’s a solution that makes the task far more manageable and saves me from ulcers!  Note that I’m using the drum notation as recommended by the Percussive Arts Society in Norman Weinberg’s book, Guide To Standardized Drumset Notation.

Notating drums still takes quite a bit of time, but at least I can keep my sanity now.