Syncing up to a Kick Drum Beat

I’m trying to figure out how to hit bass notes in sync with a kick drum, does anyone know how a drummer reads music? Is there some kind of “drum clef” to indicate where a kick drumbeat might go?

This may seem lame, but I’m on Module 1, Lesson 2 again, but with a whole new set of ears. I had to listen to the jamtrack without bass a whole bunch, and, by ear, I picked out that the kick drum was doing this pattern:

1 3 |1 3+ +|1 3 |1 3+ |1+ 3 +| + 3+ +|1 3+ |1 ??

So 8 bars, then it loops back. I’m not even sure on bars 6 and 8. Is that a syncopated note on the “and of 1” to start the bar, on bar 6? And on bar 8 I hear the “1”, but then there are so many other drumbeats, I lose track of the kick drum altogether. Did I even get this pattern somewhat right?

I’m just looking to play the root note on each kick drum beat for now, to get this concept down. In real life do you just ask the drummer what or how they’ll play? Or do your ears eventually just tune to the kick drum naturally? Or is there some easier way of going about this?

Sorry for so many questions - just being a beginner all over again :stuck_out_tongue:


Yeah, there probably is a “drum clef”, although it might just be a convention, i.e., a system generally agreed upon, but with a number of variations.

Here is what DrumMagazine suggests:

When I was writing music with a friend in the 80s, we had come up with a similar system, where the kick notes were on the low f (bass clef), the snare was on the low a and the hi-hat on the high a - that left room for the cymbals above and the toms in between. It looked like this:

However, how Terry Bozzio notates his drums is anybody’s guess :grin:

So, taken the simple system described above (and just notating the kick and the snare), I would transcribe M1 Lesson 2 like this:

Sorry about the hand-written notes - I hope it makes some sense!? Please note, the notation system is somewhat sloppy as I only write the essential rests, not, e.g., all the quarter rests that should also be there. So, it is implicitly understood that the snare notes are ALWAYS on 2 and 4 here. That should give you a “grid”.

In real life, I would talk to the drummer about what he intends to play. Mainly whether he/she intends to play the same pattern every time or whether he/she “improvises” the kick drum here. Also, for bar 8 (the fill), you just let him/her have that and don’t play along!

Hope this helps a bit!?


Yes, for sure! That drum transcription is great, and helpful. I think learning to hear the drum track is a skill I need to now exercise, as it needs to complement the bassline in some way. Good stuff!


Good question @Vik! Yes, there’s a drum clef, which is “a system generally agreed upon” like @joergkutter said. That DrumMagazine key jives with what I’ve seen mostly.

I’ve never seen the system Joerg wrote out used though, with the kick below the staff and the snare in the bottom space. The DrumMag version (kick in the bottom space, snare in the second space from the top) is what I’ve seen basically everywhere, and that’s what Sibelius (common music writing software) does by default too.

Also - listening through good headphones really helps with picking out kick. I notice a big difference in kick and bass clarity going from my ~$200 PreSonus studio monitors to my AKG K271 monitoring headphones.


Yeah. It might be time to replace my MDR-V6 monitors with something more bassy. I’d actually heard good things about the AKG semi-open backs - but it sounds like there’s better choices?


Yeah, I cut some corners here by using my own old system and not firing up a notation software to properly write out the drum track… but, I really only wanted to convey the kick-snare pattern here and since it was only 8 bars…

In any case, @Vik, if you intend to transcribe drum tracks more regularly, I would certainly advise you to follow @JoshFossgreen’s recommendation to stick with the DrumMag version or use a good notation software that “knows” where to put the different drums into the five line grid. While I don’t use Sibelius, I am sure MuseScore (which is free) also supports the official drum notation clef.


Honestly, no idea. These AKGs were recommended by a friend, and after a few years I still don’t know if I like them or not! I sometimes use them as listening headphones, which is probably why I don’t think I like them, because studio monitoring headphones shouldn’t “sound good” in the low end the way listening headphones do. Maybe I’ll know whether I recommend them or not by 2025!

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That’s actually why I was thinking about upgrading my MDR-V6s. They are arguably one of the best studio monitors in the world (certainly the most numerous), but that’s generally not what you want for listening - they are designed to bring out all the sound as flat as possible, so you can hear things you wouldn’t normally hear. Which for bass means all the high frequency noise like active EQ background noise and finger scraping :slight_smile: