How To Write Drum Tabs

Knowing how to write drum tabs is a great way to keep track of new beats you create and share your drumming expertise with the world.  Drum tabs (short for tablature), just like guitar tabs, use a series of lines to represent different elements of the instrument and the sequence in which they are played.  If you’ve got a computer or paper with tab lines already printed on it, creating tabs isn’t difficult at all.  These steps will get you started.

  1. Create your tab template.   Before you can learn how to write drum tabs, you have to have the right setup.  If you’re using tab paper, the template will already be laid out for you.  If you’re working on a computer, open a blank document and use dashes to create dashed lines stacked on top of each other.  Vertical dividers can be used to mark off measures.  Since drumming is so rhythmically based, it is beneficial to make sure each measure has the same number of dashes to represent subdivisions of the beat (i.e. sixteen dashes for the sixteenth notes in a measure of 4/4 time).  Don’t forget to copy and paste to make your job easier! When you’re done it should look like this:

    |—————-|—————-|

    |—————-|—————-|

    |—————-|—————-|

    |—————-|—————-|

  2.  Include a key to designate specific drums for each line.  Each line of your tab template will represent a different drum, so it’s smart to start off by specifying which drums correspond with each line.  Most drummers usually have their bass drum on the bottom line, snare above that, then toms, and cymbals on top.  Feel free to use whatever system makes most sense for you when you write drum tabs. 
  3. Transcribe your beats using each dash as a subdivision.  This is the most basic step when you write drum tabs.  Start off with just one measure and begin putting your beat into writing.  Use x’s to signify when to hit each drum.  To start simply, here are two measures of quarter note bass drum hits.

    |—————-|—————-|

    |—————-|—————-|

    |—————-|—————-|

    |x—x—x—x—|x—x—x—x—|

    The reader follows from left to right and sees four bass hits per measure.  The next figure show added snare hits on counts 2 and 4.  Since the bass and snare are hit together, they are placed on top of each other.

    |—————-|—————-|

    |—————-|—————-|

    |—-x——-x—|—-x——-x—|

    |x—x—x—x—|x—x—x—x—|

                  Building upon these simple ideas, you can construct complex beats like this.

    |x—————|—————-|

    |–x-x-x-x-x-x-x-|x-x-x-x-x-x-x–|

    |—-x——-x—|—-x——-x—|

    |x——xx—x-x-|x——xx—x-x-|

  4. Complete your tab by including any notations that readers (or yourself) will need to know to get through the song.  These include labeling sections of the song by the title (Verse 1, Chorus, Bridge, etc.) and noting how many times each beat gets repeated. 

Congratulations, you now know how to write drum tabs!  You’re well on your way to creating the craziest beats the world has ever heard (and seen).

Warning:

When using a computer to write drum tabs, make sure font sizes or automatic margins don’t cause the lines of your tab to become uneven or hard to read.  You may have to adjust font sizes for individual lines to keep measure breaks lined up.