Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Part 1

By in John Hinchey's Drum Set Notation, Notation

Most of the projects I arrange for require drum set parts. A drum set part can be as simple as measures filled with slashes that layout the form or very detailed notation showing every drum or cymbal struck by every limb. My experience is the best drum set parts fall somewhere in between, with just enough notation to clearly get the idea across but not overly notated and cluttered. Although some find drums set parts to be the most time consuming and “tweaky” parts to create, my experience is that this is not the case if you using Sibelius | Ultimate!

In this series of blog posts, I will show you how to use Sibelius | Ultimate’s powerful built-in features to quickly and efficiently create clear concise drum set parts for any type of arrangement.

But before I do, let’s define the different types of notation commonly seen in drum set parts. Then I’ll show you some techniques I use to create each one.

Drum set notation types

  1. 1. Fully notated
  2. 2. Repeat bars
  3. 3. Slashes
  4. 4. Rhythmic notation
  5. 5. Combination notated and slashes
  6. 6. Cues for kicks
  7. 7. Cues for navigation

Drum set notation styles

There are three basic styles of notation used for drum set parts shown below, and all are perfectly valid. As with all music notation, the bottom line is that you want to strive to be clear and consistent. The style you use is up to you and may be dictated by the client or a specific situation.

‘A’ is the style that I’ve always used. The way I think of drum set parts is for drums and cymbals to be played with the hands are stems up, and parts played with the feet stems down. The rhythms to be played are clear but there are more rests to keep up with. ‘B’ eliminates most rests and is also a very common notation style for drums. ‘C’ is a short hand that I have usually seen used by drummers who are writing charts for themselves, a quick shorthand style of writing.

The techniques I’ll cover in this series of blog posts can be applied to any of these notation styles.

Note input on drum set staves

Note input for drum staves is the same as for any other staff in Sibelius, and I’ll assume you know the basics of that. If not, check out some of the great videos on the Get Started Fast page on the Avid Blogs.

By default, drum set staves have predefined noteheads (normal, crossed or shaped) assigned to MIDI notes. For example, if you press G5 on your MIDI controller, a note will be input above the top line with a cross (x) notehead for high hat. To see what MIDI notes correspond to the notes on the staff, click once on your drum set staff and then go to the Home>Instruments and click on the Edit box. When the next window appears, click on Edit Instrument, then Edit Staff Type, which will bring you to the window below. Clicking on a note on the staff will show the corresponding MIDI note.

If you want to input notes on a drum staff without a MIDI controller, you have a couple of options. Select the note duration from the keypad and use the cursor to click into the staff, or click the staff and type N to start note input, and type note name on your computer keyboard. One issue you will run into with this is that you can only input normal noteheads with this type of input. You will then need to change the notehead(s) by selecting the note and selecting the notehead type in Notations>Noteheads>Type. But here’s another way that doesn’t require a MIDI controller.

The keyboard panel

If you will go to View>Panels and check ‘Keyboard’, a piano style keyboard will appear. This will allow you to input notes by clicking on its keys on the screen as if you are using a MIDI keyboard. In the video below I’ll input example ‘A’ from earlier in this post. The steps are as follows:

Click on the bar and type n, then from your keypad choose the eighth note, now click on G5 on the Keyboard panel and a cross notehead G5 appears, repeat as needed. Using the left arrow key move back to the eighth note on beat 2. Now click on the Chord Mode button on the Keyboard panel and it will turn blue.

Next click on C5 on the Keyboard panel and a normal notehead appears for the snare drum. Using the right arrow key move to beat 4 and repeat for the next snare drum note. When you are done click on the escape key on your computer keyboard twice to get out of input mode.

This next step is important. Click on the Chord Mode button again to toggle out of chord mode (it is no longer blue). Stems down notes are required for the kick, so you’ll need to be in voice 2. Click into the staff, type n and switch to voice two (opt/alt 2 keystroke works well). From your keypad select the quarter note. And click on F4 on the Keyboard panel, click 0 on your keypad for the rest on beat 2 and repeat for beats 3 and 4 and you’re done!


Check back for the next part in this series for more tips on quickly filling out drum parts.

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I am a producer, arranger, composer and trombonist based in Nashville Tennessee, with over 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry. For more information, please visit my website, HincheyMusic.com, and for more Sibelius tips, visit “Notes On Notes” blog at JohnHinchey.com.