Practical Guide to 18th Century Drumming
by Ron Aylor

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Drum Tack   Lesson One: Note Values

    The ability to read music is of the utmost importance. A drummer who cannot read will prove to be a burden to the "reading" drummers in the line. Reading music is like reading printed words in that there are certain symbols that the drummer must learn to recognize on sight and be able to interpret instantly.

    Beatings are written down so that they may be passed on to another person. For this reason, the notation must be clear and legible, and the symbols used must follow certain guidelines so that they can be understood with as little explanation as possible.

    Below are the different "parts" of a note: the stem, the head, a beam and flag.

    Note Parts

    As you will see in following illustrations, the direction of the stem is inconsequential. The stem can point either up or down.

    The symbols used to represent relative duration of notes are as follows:

    Duration of Notes

    The symbols above do not represent an exact duration. The precise length of a note is impossible to determine without other information like time signature and tempo. Notes do, however, represent relative duration. For example, one can say that a "whole note is equal to 2 half notes" or a "quarter note is equal to 4 sixteenth notes."

    Take notice that eighth, sixteenth, and thirty-second notes all have flags associated with them. The flag should always appear on the right side of the stem. A beating written with many flags is difficult to read. Groups of notes that have flags should be "beamed" together into the same beat or measure, as illustrated below.

    Flags & Beams

    As indicated by their names, the notes have a specific relationship to each other with regard to duration or length. Each group of notes in the following table represents the same duration or length of time.

    Table of Note Durations

    There are also symbols to indicate when NOT to play. These are called rests. Each note has a corresponding rest, which is of the same value. As with the table of note values, there are 32 thirty-second rests to one whole rest, and so forth.

    Table of Rest Durations

    Take note of the similarity between the whole rest and the half rest. They are easily confused. The whole rest "hangs" from the line while the half rest "sits" on the line.

    Duration is not only represented by the notes and rests themselves. Additional signs must be used to indicate other values. A dot, placed on the right side of the note head, adds half the value of the note. Although rare, a second dot can add half the value of the first dot (it could continue, but three dots is extremely rare). Dots can also be added to rests.. The value of dotted rests is determined in the same way as the value of dotted notes.

    The Dot

    Ties combine two or more notes to create a single longer note value. By using ties, almost any duration is possible. Usually when performing tied notes, only the first note is articulated. In drumming, we utilize the tie (or longer note value) to indicate rolls. Rolls will be discussed in a later lesson. Below is an example of different note values tied together. You would perform them as a single long note (or roll).

    The Tie

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