How to transcribe a drum music sheet(my way)

This page is my personal memorandom. This is my way. Everybody has his/her own way. For the first time, the whole process for a song may take a week (8 hours or more). Please be patient.
1st Draft: Dec. 10, 2013


  1. Measure tempo with a metronome (should be easy)
  2. Song Structure -- Count bars(measures), record timestamps (memorandom)
  3. Beat patterns + syncopation + fill length (1st draft) -- play and correct
  4. Add transcription of fill-ins (difficult part) -- play and correct
  5. Make the sheet easy to read and play (2nd draft)
  6. Play, ask, and correct! (final version)

Step 2: Song Structure

Use any piece of paper and pencil. Write down the title, total length(min:sec), and the tempo. When you learned for a couple of songs, some sub-steps can be combined.
  1. Find lyrics and chord progression for the song if possible -- This helps me to grasp the song structure.
  2. Write down the order of Intro, Verse1(A part), Verse1 (B part), Chorus1, Verse2, Bridge, Guitar solo, Outro etc. Think of reharsal marks A, B, C, etc.
  3. Record the timestamp(min:sec) for each part.
  4. Count number of bars(measures) of each part and write down with "|" or any letter you choose. Write 4 bars + extra bar in one line. For long song, 8 bars in one line is fine. I use fingers to count 1/4 notes for non 4/4 time bars.
  5. You may go to Step 5 (Easy to read and play).

Step 3: Beat Patterns

Now, prepare blank 5 line music sheet papers (maybe 12 staves/page) and a pencil or music sheet software. Listen the song part by part from each timestamp, repeatedly. A music player with slow play function will help you. Sometimes you may want to listen left or right only to distinguish drums and cymbals.


In many popular music recording, sound from drum kit is panned in stereo, either in drummers view or audience view. For example, in audience view a typical pan settings for right handed drummer is;
Right: (drummer's) left crash 
        hi-hat, high tom (not far right)
Center: kick, snare
       mid tom (not far left)
Left: ride cymbal, (drummer's) right crash, floor tom

Fig. Pan settings of right handed drummer in audience view 

  1. Write reharsal marks (repeat, D.S., D.C. etc. if possible) -- pencil preferred because I may make mistakes here.
  2. hi-hat, ride -- 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 etc. -- low freq cut may help. Use pan information to distinguish hi-hat and ride.
  3. snare -- 2 and 4, or other patters
  4. snare ghost notes(rather difficult) -- if necessary
  5. kick -- listen with big speaker and use eq. Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish kick and bass guitar. Basically they are synchronized, but not always kick is hit at every bass guitar sound onset.
  6. cyncopations (rather difficult) -- mark with arcs(tie). Typically, crash+kick, snare+kick, hi-hat open+kick, hi-hat open only.
  7. fill-ins -- just count the length and left the blank for fill-ins for now.
You may use 1-bar or 2-bars repeat sign to omit successive similar patterns.

Step 4: Fill-ins

This is the most difficult step. My goal is to get what sounds like the original. I can transcribe almost perfectly what I can play but cannot for the other. If the drummer's video is available, play the video slowly and we can understand how he/her plays.
  1. Get the note values -- possibly recognize low(kick and/or floor tom) pitch sound, high pitch (snare, other toms), cymbals
  2. Guess which tom is hit by pitch and pan
  3. Play and guess sticking -- If the drummer has many toms, I modify the fill for my 5 piece kit

Step 5: Easy to Read and Play Sheet

When you have some experiences, this step becomes in Step2 (Song Structure). In that case, you do not need to write 2nd draft version of the sheets here.

For me, drum sheet easy to read and play has the following style. Even a band score is available, I will re-write a drum music sheet for the song.
  1. Within 2, at most 3 pages(glued) -- fits on the stand without turning the page
  2. 4 bars + extra bar in one line(stave) -- easy to follow
  3. Add chord progression and part of the lyrics, especially, the part I should sing.

Step 6: Play, Ask, and Correct

Play and record. If necessary, ask for experienced drummers' (instructor or drumeo members) review for the difficult part.

My Examples


Free or Opensource Music Sites

Full transcription step by step with time spent can be included for a song freely used. Here are a list of related sites. I have not tried to transcribe any of the songs on the sites yet.
Moby Gratis
Free Soundtrack Music
ccMixter -- Creative Commons License
Public Domain 4U -- old music
Musopen -- old music
Beatpick -- OK for non-profit use -- open source music sites

For copyrighted song, result of Step 2, and transcription of some interested parts can be included here.

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Feel free to use/modify the contents.