Drum n Bass Notation

Drum notation has become much more consistent over the past few years, largely because of computer programs. But it is still far from being standardized.

Drum notation has become much more consistent over the past few years, largely because of computer programs. But it is still far from being standardized. In some areas of this book, a particular notation scheme (developed specifically for DnB beats) appears. For the basics of music notation, or to learn about the standardized world of music notation (a full explanation of stems, rests, repeats, etc), check out any basics of music book.

Music notation is merely a means to an end. In most places, I have notated the rhythms in a manner that I feel will convey the message to the reader most easily. As a professor of mine once said, as he held up a jazz band chart, “This is not music. What is music is whatever comes out of your instrument.”

Here is the legend:

And here are examples of new notations you will find in various places in this book:

What is Drum n Bass Drumming?

There are some things that definitely are DnB, and there’s some things that are not.

An acoustic style that mimics an electronic style.
A live style that mimics a pre-recorded style.
A human style that mimics a machine-driven style.

Most electronica (electronic music, DnB, techno, jungle, etc.) is created by people who have little to no knowledge of the principles of music theory, and do not play an instrument. For these people, the programmers, the computer is the instrument by which they make music. So, for the most part, drummers do not create the drumbeats found in electronica.

The exciting thing about this is that if you analyse electronica beats, you will find a whole new vocabulary of beats never played before; they just didn’t exist. And this is the biggest reason that I can find for why this style is not based on conventional drumset rudiments – the programmers that created the beats didn’t know about them.

One advantage that programmers have over many drummers is that they have the opportunity to really analyse the beats they create. They have both a strong visual and auditory connection with the beats they create; they can hear and see them. This gives programmers a higher level of understanding of what makes a certain beat tick. It also gives programmers a particular advantage compared to drummers who do not read music. That is, if you have a graphic conception of a beat, you have an opportunity to really be objective in answering questions like, “Why does this beat feel unbalanced?” or “How can I make this beat more symmetrical?”.

A source of new sounds for the acoustic drumset.

A programmer can create infinitely more sounds on a computer than he or she can on a drumset. So, in order to bring the conventional drumset up to speed with electronica, a lot of new products have been introduced lately: small snares, special effects cymbals, and a lot of toys. By all means, go nuts! But think about these two issues before you buy:

  1. How many different sounds can I pull from this single piece of equipment?
  2. Can I use it for other styles of music I play?

A balance between independence and interdependence.

Drum n’ bass beats display independence in that the musical ideas played by each limb are not necessarily related. When you hear a DnB song, your ear may often latch on to just one (of many) repeating lines. In this way, much of what the audience hears in DnB is horizontal. Programmers are able to create electronica in a similar horizontal fashion – they will continually stack layer upon layer of beats as the song progresses. The music is continually flowing, and the groove is never interrupted. And incidentally, these layers can appear at very different tempos – synthesized strings at 40 bpm, a bass line at 80 bpm, a melody line at 160 bpm, a barely audible click at 320 bpm.

Likewise, there are four different layers in a DnB drumbeat. These layers will be referred to throughout the book.

Drum n’ bass beats display interdependence in that, in order to handle the fast tempos of electronica music, your body must be comfortable with new vertical combinations of limbs. Another way that programmers create electronica songs is to take vertical (cross-sectional) chunks of a different song and paste them back together in different ways. For example, if you label each vertical chunk of a beat, a programmer could easily take this beat….

…and change it around to this beat…

…or this beat:

Some of the more advanced beats in this book have different limbs playing different tempos at the same time. In order to pull this off, your limbs need to depend on each other like never before. Plus, your body must be comfortable with not playing certain limbs for extended periods of time.

A review: In musical terms, when this book talks about looking at a beat vertically, it means to look at the beat by each quarter note’s worth of time. When it talks about horizontal, it means to look at each of the four different layers (bass drum, snare drum, ride, and ghost notes) separately.

A style that is closely related to Latin drumset drumming.

The method behind recreating the feel of electronica is much like playing Latin or Afro-Cuban drumbeats. In these specific musical forms, 99% of the time there is an underlying, predetermined pulse that the drummer can mimic. Or, by not mimicking the pulse, the drummer can create a natural counterpoint. For example, a bossa nova.

The bossa nova pulse is set in stone. When a band plays a bossa nova, everyone “hears” the beat, whether the drummer is specifically playing it or not: where the cross-stick falls, the bass drum pulse, etc. A drummer can stray from the basic bossa to open his part up, and then return to it during someone else’s solo. The switching back and forth between complex vs. simple, extra-bossa vs. regular bossa, creates the feeling of tension and release that is essential in all forms of music. A bossa, or any other type of beat, would be pretty boring for both the player and the listener if it was strictly adhered to, especially in its most traditional form. Mix it up, for everybody’s sake, but be able to confidently return to the original beat when you need to.

The same tension/release approach should be taken with DnB. In order to effectively communicate with the band and the listener, a predetermined “pulse” should be chosen. Then, on top of that, the drummer can stray from it, and return to it. Back and forth. Tension and release.

The following is an example of a pulse. It’s just a simple riff, but play it until it’s burned into your head. It’s a very common DnB beat.

The pulse can also be played in the ride pattern.

When playing drumset in a Latin style, the drummer is mimicking the sounds and patterns of Latin songs that are usually played on other instruments. Patterns of bells, timbales, congas, and bongos are all imitated and approximated by bells of cymbals, toms/tom rims, and bass drums, all simultaneously by a single player. Drum n’ bass drumming does the same type of thing. A drummer’s ride cymbal can replace anything that is heard in a DnB song: a burst of static, or the sound of a tin can.

So if you know anything about Latin drumset beats, you are already ahead of the game. To review: Latin and drum n’ bass drumming both…

  1. Give the conventional drumset new sounds to play around with: sounds you can buy, and new ways to play your existing drums.
  2. Are identified with fast, consistent beats that rarely disrupt the clave. (Check out any book on Latin beats if you don’t know this term.)
  3. Are never played behind the beat. The pulse is always driving forward, not pulling back.

A balance between analysis and practice.

As stated earlier, most programmers are not drummers, and do not spend time practicing the beats that they create. They do, however, spend time analysing the beats that they create. This is so, in part, because programmers can see the beat displayed on the computer screen as well as hear the beat. To a programmer, the visual aspect of the beat is often as important as the auditory aspect of a beat. That is, a beat that looks appealing (like a beat that is symmetrical, or one that sounds the same played forward or backward) can be just as cool as one that sounds appealing.

Programmers understand their beats inside and out, vertically and horizontally. They know what each layer sounds like when it is played just by itself. So, in this respect, programmers have an advantage over drummers – they have a great conceptual and analytical understanding of their beats. The time spent analysing their beats gives programmers a great ability to choose the perfect complementary beat for a given song.

How do these changes in the music world apply to you, the reader of this book? First, it puts more pressure on you to be able to read music. Graphic representations of music, whether they are on a standardized notated staff or sound waves on a computer screen, are increasingly becoming a more common way for musicians to communicate with each other. Being able to read music is a necessary step to being able to communicate with other musicians.

Second, in today’s music world, just practicing a beat is not enough to gain a full working knowledge of it. I’ve found that if you analyse a beat on paper, you will more easily be able to make subtle changes in it, versus if you just practised it and burned the combinations and hits into your “muscle memory” . The ability to analyse beats will help you be able to specifically mold a beat to any given situation or style of music.

Drum n’ Bass drumming is not…

Of monumental importance here is to identify that the following beat is not the type of beat that this book is trying to produce:

In this beat, the left hand remains at the snare playing offbeat 16th notes, while the right hand goes back and forth between accented hi hat hits and accented snare hits. This type of beat is too cluttered with 16th notes and does not give the drummer any more independence or interdependence between the limbs. You also can’t play the hi hat and the snare at the same time. It’s not that this beat isn’t cool, or that it can’t sound great in a certain song, it’s just that this type of beat was created by a drummer, and this book is attempting to bridge the gap between drummers and programmers.

You may find beats where it does sound great to drop your ride limb down to the snare drum. Great! Do it! Just don’t sacrifice the world of possibilities offered by this new style.

DnB Rudiments – Intro

This is a quick intro to the DnB rudiments. All drum styles have rudiments.

This section uses a ground-up approach to help the DnB drummer get a handle on the beats. I recommend that you practice both the rudiments and the beats of this book at the same time; don’t get too obsessed with the technique found in this section, but don’t forget about it, either. Working on both the rudiments and the beats at the same time will also prevent burnout, and make the challenge of playing the beats even more exciting.

DnB Rudiments – Dropping the Ride

Being able to totally drop out your ride limb, the limb that is usually playing the greatest number and most constant notes of the average drum beat, is a great way to prepare your body for how awkward it will feel later on – to play rests in places where you are used to playing notes.

The first step to getting fast is to play slowly. You have to be able to play nothing before you are able to play something, right? Actually, it’s not as philosophical as that. But being able to totally drop out your ride limb, the limb that is usually playing the greatest number and most constant notes of the average drum beat, is a great way to prepare your body for how awkward it will feel later on – to play rests in places where you are used to playing notes.

Try to play this simple rock beat without playing anything in the right hand. Remember, START SLOWLY AND USE A METRONOME.


Now, we’ll add a sparse ride pattern. The goal here is to be able to keep your place within the beat (that is, keep counting 1, 2, 3, 4) and still place the ride notes in the correct place, according to the music. Try to play your way through the entire exercise. These are basically permutation exercises. Check out any David Garibaldi book for a full explanation of this concept.

Start out by taking 8 passes at each phrase, and work your way down the page. Then go play some of the beats that appear later on in the book. Next time you open the book, take 4 passes. Then the next time (or whenever) do 2. The final goal is to be able to play the whole thing through, no repeats, at a fast tempo, maybe 180 BPM. Record yourself playing these exercises. When you play it back, imagine different sounds that your ride could be replaced with. How many different sounds could you come up with from your acoustic drum set? What would it sound like if the snare and bass layers were each replaced with notes?

The tempos for this rudiments section (tracks 1 through 27) are 120 BPM for slow, 180 BPM for fast.







Now, here is the same type of exercise, but the ride patterns appear in groups of 4 measures. Musically, each measure builds upon the last one, creating momentum. Follow the same 8 times through each measure – 4 times through each one – 2, and then one time through each pattern (as described above). Go slowly at first, and USE A METRONOME.

When you get to the point where you are playing these groups of 4 measures at 180 BPM, it really sounds like you are building up to something exciting at the end of the forth measure.









Now, for extra credit, go back and repeat exercises 2a through 3d – same ride patterns, but a different snare/bass pattern, one that is found quite often in DnB.
















The 16 DnB Rudiments

The first group develops the ever-present offbeat unaccented 16th note, an important part DnB drumming. Group 2 rudiments were designed by taking a stream of four 16th notes, and substituting one of the 16th notes (the first, second, third or fourth one) with a rest.

These rudiments don’t really fit into the traditional class of the standard PAS 26 rudiments. DnB rudiments:

  1. Do not contain double strokes.
  2. Use the snare, bass drum, and hi hat/ride.

I highly recommend that any drummer practice the standard PAS 26 – play them slowly and in control, and pay particular attention to the difference in volume between accented and unaccented notes. These DnB rudiments, however, do not try to build just technique. They are the building blocks to vertical DnB playing, as described earlier (go back and read “What is Drum n’ Bass Drumming?” if you haven’t done so yet). Mastering these rudiments, and overcoming the awkwardness of newfound interdependence between the limbs, will have you playing DnB beats in no time.

Rudiment Group 1

This rudiment group develops the ever-present offbeat unaccented 16th note, an important part DnB drumming. There are four of these. Each rudiment includes four sixteenth notes, a quarter note’s worth of time. The rudiments are numbered above the staff.


Since the DnB rudiments should really be memorized and internalized, there are no specific exercises written out. The best way to practice them is to lay the page out in front of your drumset, turn on the metronome to a slow tempo, and play different combinations of the rudiments in various orders. Come up with different patterns. Below are some examples for Group 1 rudiments. The tempos for this rudiments section (tracks 28 through 39) are 120 BPM for slow, 160 BPM for fast.







Make sure that the unaccented snare hits are quiet and fluid. Once you can play any combination of the rudiments smoothly, speed up the tempo. Slowly work your way up to 160 BPM. The idea here is control and stamina, not speed. Concentrate on achieving a smooth flow of rock-solid 16th notes.

Rudiment Group 2

Group 2 rudiments were designed by taking a stream of four 16th notes, and substituting one of the 16th notes (the first, second, third or fourth one) with a rest. Rudiments in 8a have a rest substituted for the first 16th note, rudiments in 8b have a rest substituted for the second 16th note, rudiments in 8c have a rest substituted for the third 16th note, and rudiments in 8d have a rest substituted for the fourth 16th note. So, each subset, 8a-8d, has its own signature surface rhythm. This concept is then combined with the limitation that bass drum, accented snare drum, and ride hits usually do not occur on the 2nd or fourth 16th note.

In this rudiment group, it is important for the drummer to “think like a machine”. Each note on the page must be given its full value and must be placed exactly where it is supposed to be. To do this, again, it is imperative that you BEGIN SLOWLY AND USE A METRONOME.





Again, when you first begin practising these, make sure that your flow isn’t interrupted. Play them SLOWLY AND WITH A METRONOME. Play Group 2 rudiments like the Group 1 rudiments – in different patterns and combinations, but consistently. Below are some examples.







The Beats of Drum n’ Bass

Finally, some real beats!

Let’s get right to some examples. Keep in mind that there are not 5 beats below. There are hundreds.

From here on out, tracks 40 through 63, the tempos are 120 BPM for slow, 180 BPM for fast.











Making Music

The best way to approach grasping the feel of this type of music is to have complete control over a beat. Memorize the beat in its most complex form.

Before we go into the analysis of each specific beat, take note of these technical points.

For all the previous beats,

  1. They don’t have more than 3 consecutive eighth notes on the ride, bass drum, nor the accented snare drum.
  2. The 16 DnB rudiments we have already seen are interspersed between accented notes on the snare, bass drum, and ride.
  3. There is hardly any poliphony; most of the time, there is only one surface being struck, not two surfaces at once.
  4. If you take away the ghost notes within each of the beats, you will notice that each beat is made up of only eighth and quarter notes. There are no accented snare drum, bass drum, or ride layer hits on the second or fourth 16th note– the “e”s and “ah”s if you are counting “1, e, and, a”.
  5. There are no hand instructions written out; each limb stays on a particular surface for the duration of the beat. There is no switching of a single limb from the ride to the snare drum at all in these beats.

So how can you cop the feel of these beats? What musical guidelines should you keep in mind when playing this type of music?

  1. DnB is a dance-oriented music. So, it is important to not disrupt the groove. The next section will help you develop the techniques to build up or take away tension within the music. These techniques are also essential in maintaining the groove, while giving your limbs a rest. Just because your arms are tired, it doesn’t mean that you have to play half-speed.
  2. The best way to approach grasping the feel of this type of music is to have complete control over a beat. Memorize the beat in its most complex form. Be able to drop particular parts of the beat out for variation (or if you get tired), but at the same time be able to maintain the main rhythms and main accents that the beat dictates. In other words, it is better to have completely mastered a single beat than to only halfway know two different beats. Also, keep in mind that a great way to create new beats is to make variations of beats you already know. We’ll get into this in the next section.
  3. DnB beats are special in that the phrases can be very long. In a lot of music, drum beats are only a measure long and are repeated over and over through the course of a song. But DnB beats can be 4, 6 or 8 measures, or even more. The longer the phrase, the more haphazard and random the beat feels. And this is a good thing.
  4. DnB drum beats do not necessarily have to emulate the sound of drums in a DnB song. The beats within this book more generally duplicate the rhythms that appear within a song, not the particular sounds. As stated earlier, there are infinitely more sounds available to a programmer than there are to a drummer. Keep in mind that any of the three layers of the DnB beats within this book, particularly the ride layer, could be replaced by the sound of short bursts of static, a cow mooing, or whatever.
  5. The offbeat 16th notes, while they are essential to creating the DnB sound, should not be the major point of concentration, and should always be in the background. The ghost notes are always just “filler”. Work to keep them quiet.

Analysis and Application – Intro

All of the practice beats in the rudiments section are designed to be musical. Use them in your own DnB beats!

It should be a drummer’s goal, or any musician’s goal, to make music every time you pick up your instrument. If you practice musically, you will sound more musical and interact on a more musical level when you play with other people. If your practice time is sloppy, and devoted only to developing speed or any single aspect, it will be a lot harder to convey musical ideas to other musicians, and to an audience. All of the practice beats in the rudiments section are designed to be musical. Use them in your own DnB beats!

So, how can you use the DnB beats and rudiments to really make music? What is it exactly that DnB drummers can do to “make music” when they don’t even have “notes” to play? The answer is a two-step process, a combination of techniques found in the computing world and the drumming world: analysis and application.

The analysis part comes from the computer world. Here, I will discuss certain vertical and horizontal aspects of each beat that contribute to the beat’s overall character. Each one of the beats that we will analyse has certain concepts or traits that make the beat unique. Knowing where within the beat (like on the “and of beat 2, second measure”) special things happen, is crucial to being able to make music with these beats.

These concepts will be exploited in the application part, the part that comes from the drumming world. Here, I will give you ways to make each example more musical and more versatile in one continuous beat. In other words, you will be able to play a DnB type beat for an entire song – you will be able to mix it up, keep it under control, keep the tempo up, and keep the flow going. This, instead of just throwing a few licks together. I will also apply a few fundamentals of music, ones that are often overlooked, to the beats.

1. Dynamics– This means changing the volume of a particular layer, while trying to keep the other layers at a constant volume. Applying dynamics in this way can really show the listener that different layers (of a single beat) can have very different concepts or feels. But, when all the layers are played together, those opposing feels can melt together into one cohesive beat.

2. Voice Substitution/Reorchestration– This means keeping the rhythms the same on the page, but substituting the voice of one layer for the voice of another. Programmers have an advantage in that they can take a notated beat, and substitute any sound they want for a particular rhythm. That is, at the change of a button, the snare drum will play the pattern the bass drum was playing, and the bass drum will play the pattern the snare drum was playing. With a live drummer, this would involve learning an entirely new set of combinations and independence between limbs. But, hey, that’s half the fun, right?

3. Ornamentation– This means being able to add in or take out any single drum or cymbal (snare/bass drum, ride, or ghost notes) at any given time. For example, you can start out with the snare, then add the bass, then keep adding cymbal notes until you have the entire layer as it appears on the page, and finally add the ghost notes. This really builds tension in a song, and drives the music forward. Plus, you can stretch a single two-measure beat out for 32 measures or more, and keep it interesting the whole time.

Beat 9A- Analysis and Application

Notice that even though the instrumentation or even the overall sound may change, it is still basically the same hand/foot combinations.

BEAT 9A- Analysis

What vertical traits does this beat have?

  1. Beats 1 and 3 of each measure contain a snare-bass drum combination (either A or B).
  2. Beats 2 and 4 of each measure contain a DnB rudiment (either #16 or #6).
  3. Overall, this beat has a very “symmetrical” vertical sound.

And what about the horizontal traits? The ride layer does not state the downbeats – most of the groupings of notes begin on the “ands” of beats.

But the snare and bass layers do state the down beat.

So (with respect to points #4 and # 5 above) the three major layers of this beat, the ride and snare/bass layers together, convey different horizontal feels.

Finally, both the first and last accented snare hits are coordinated with ride layer hits. This could be a point where something different happens.

BEAT 9A – Application

So, based on the analysis we have, the following are a few ways to show off the different characteristics of this beat. Notice that even though the instrumentation or even the overall sound may change, it is still basically the same hand/foot combinations. The original beat is just built up, bit by bit.



Beat 9B – Analysis and Application

This beat has lots of space at times. At other points, it’s very dense.

BEAT 9B- Analysis

This beat has lots of space at times. At other points, it’s very dense. So, make sure that you USE A METRONOME and that you give each 16th note its due.


There aren’t many accented snare and bass notes…

…but there is a lot of activity between the unaccented snare and the ride layers. So, it might be a good idea to differentiate the unaccented snare and ride as much as possible.

There are 4 ride layer notes in each measure. To create some symmetry, let’s see what happens when we take the middle two (in each measure) and move the notes down to a tom. Then let’s do the reverse. Take the outside two notes (of each measure) down to a tom. Why? Because we’re thinking like programmers, not drummers. Check out the application in 9m. for these nice counter melodies.

Overall, there is a lot of vertical variation in this beat. There are only two points in this beat that share the same rhythmic pattern of four 16th notes in a row. All the other rhythmic patterns (the rhythmic patterns that make up one quarter note’s worth of time) are different.


BEAT 9B- Application

There is so much vertical variation, that this beat should probably be kept straight ahead. That is, we won’t separate the main important layers of the beat, as we did with beat 9a. If you did, there wouldn’t be enough rhythmic consistency for the listener to grasp on to. This beat doesn’t have a clear rhythmic statement like in example 9i.