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Positional Drum Music Notation

Redesigning Drum Music Notation

Group Members

  • Sebastiano Bea
  • Mishel Johns


Musical notation has been historically designed for instruments with pitches. The higher the note is on the score, the higher the pitch. Notes are seen as an ordinal variable, as they can be compared. With drum sets, however, this distinction falls, as there is no (obvious) direct way to compare the sound of each drum. The bass drum may have a lower frequency compared to a crash cymbal, but they differ by many other factors that are not easily comparable. At the current state, drum notation has been directly obtained by "adapting" the classical music notation to a drum context. Each line on the score corresponds to a drum part and the symbol of the note changes to show different ways to play the drum part (circled x for open hi hat vs x for closed hi hat). Being a drummer, I (Sebastiano) can attest to the poor communicability that this notation has. It is not related to the characteristic of each drum part, and often drummers don't use any notation at all. I have also witnessed different standards for drum notation, that usually confuse the reader. Drum sounds are much more "nominal" rather than "ordinal", as they are so different that they cannot be ordered quantitatively.

Our idea is to map drum notation to a web interface where vertical position represents the time(ing) and horizontal dimension represents the spatial layout of the drum set. We reasoned that it is much more straightforward for the reader to map the notation to a spatial position of the drum part rather than an arbitrary height on the score (an adaptation of a guitar hero style notation).

Our project outline is:

  1. Define the characteristic of the new notation
  2. Create a web interface to write down the notation
  3. Implement printing from web interface
  4. Implement interactivity with the software (customizable layout of the drumset)
  5. MIDI import / export (optional)
  6. Playback scrolling (optional)

Project Progress Presentation

Final Deliverables