How To Play Percussion Half Notes

If you plan to study and perform any style of music–especially rock, latin or jazz–knowing how to play percussion half notes and how to count them is essential. In order to play a half note, it is first important to understand the following musical concepts:

  • Pulse. This is the heartbeat of the song.  In other words, it is the most basic division of time in the song and determines the song's overall pace. Most non-musicians, when they dance or tap their feet to music, feel the pulse without even knowing it. 
  • Measure or "Bar". The measure, or "bar", is the yardstick of music. It breaks up a song into its smallest meaningful parts. For example, in "Yankee Doodle," the first complete measure is "Yan-kee Doo-dle". 
  • Whole Note. This lasts for four "heartbeats" or beats of the pulse.
  • Half Note. This lasts for two beats of the pulse.
  • Quarter note. This lasts for a single beat of the pulse.

Let's set ourselves up to play the half note. You will need drums and a metronome for this exercise. 

  1. Tap a pulse on your foot. These are quarter notes. If you don't have a metronome, you can use a clock (ticks at 60 beats per minute).
  2. Count aloud while you tap your foot: "1-2-3-4".
  3. Keep counting "1-2-3-4" and now emphasize the 1st and 3rd beat by clapping them with your hands.
  4. You have just devoted your voice, feet and hands to playing a half note. Now its time to play this on the drums.
  5. Using a standard jazz pattern, play quarter notes on the ride cymbal. Remember to count "1-2-3-4" with each hit while you're learning. 
  6. Next, open the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 while keeping the quarter notes on the ride and counting "1-2-3-4".
  7. The duration of time between each hi-hat lasts for two beats or a half note.
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