Three Things: Drum Set Notation

By in John Hinchey's Three Things, Music Creation, Notation

It is always great to learn new techniques that speed up your workflow in an application you’ve been using for a while isn’t it? In this series of blog posts, I’m going to stick to three things on a topic that I believe will help speed up your work flow.


And the beat goes on

Drum set notation can be a time consuming endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. With the help of some handy plug-ins and keyboard short cuts, you can make short work of drum set parts. You will find the following three tips work well with other rhythm section parts as well.

To follow along you will need to install the three plug-ins I mention, which are all found in

File Tab > Plug-ins > Install > Show:All > Notes and Rests


One: Slash notation

After the initial drum pattern is notated a common practice is to fill the following bars with slashes (or beats without stems in Sibelius terms).

You probably know that the direct way to do this is to put quarter notes on the middle line of the staff and then change the noteheads to “beat without stems”. Wouldn’t it be great to fill up the following bars, no matter how many, with slashes in one move? With the Fill Selection With Slash Notes plug-in, you can do just that! This plug-in works on other rhythm section parts as well and will put the slashes on midline no matter what the clef or key.

Select the bars you want to fill and run the Fill Selection With Slash Notes plug-in. This window will come up:

For this situation the defaults are just fine, you can explore the other options of this plug-in as needed. A tip to speed things up, check the box labeled “Do not show dialog again (this Sibelius session)” and now when you run the plug-in the bars will just fill with slash notes without this window opening up.


Two: Rhythmic notation

Similar to slash notation bars, with rhythmic notation the arranger is giving the drummer freedom to use his discretion as to what to play. The difference is, the arranger defines the rhythmic pattern on which the drummer bases his decision. Like slash notation in Sibelius, this notation is created by notating the rhythm on the midline of the staff and changing the noteheads, but this time to “Beat” which includes a stem on the notes. But as you may have guessed by now, there is a plug-in that will do this for you, it’s the Move Pitches To Transposed Midline plug-in.

With this plug-in you can create as many bars of rhythmic notation in as many bars as you need very quickly. The plug-in works on other rhythm section parts as well, and will put the slashes with stems on the midline no matter what the clef or key.

For this example, the right hand of this piano part has the rhythmic figure I want to represent in the drum part.

Select the bars in the treble staff and copy into the drum part and you’ll have this.

Select the bar you need to change. Now run the Move Pitches To Transposed Midline plug-in.

This window will come up. The defaults work for most cases, but experiment with the parameters as needed.

Notice the plug-in deleted the extra notes in the chord and has moved everything to the midline. It works just as well on single note phrases as it does with chords.


Three: Cues

If you do any big band or pit band arranging you are probably familiar with the technique of cueing horn section figures in the drum set part for “kicks”. The drummer reads the rhythms and creates a drum pattern to accent and support what is being played by the horns. The horn section rhythms appear above the top line of the staff as cue sized notes and rests along with slashes (beat no stem) on the mid line of the staff. It’s not difficult to create, but it does take quite a few steps. With Make Pitches Constant-Drums plug-in you can achieve all of this in 2 steps.

Here’s an example of a trumpet staff and a drum set staff. The trumpet staff has the notes and rests that represent the phrase you want to show in the drum set part. Copy the trumpet phrase into the drum set part, using copy and paste or opt/click method to copy.

Now run the Drum Cues plug-in. This great plug-in allows you to choose, notehead style, slash notehead style, cues above on the top staff line or bottom staff line and more. These are settings I use for a brass cue.

And the plug-in creates this in the drum set part:

Now that you have these three tips, assign them to keyboard shortcuts and you can really simplify the process of creating drum set 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,, and for more Sibelius tips, visit “Notes On Notes” blog at