Jazz/pop/rock drum part considerations


After some practical experimenting, discussions in a Dorico forum and discussions in a very informative thread on this forum (Voice sizes and drum cue note sizing - #45 by dan.h.tillberg), I was requested to conclude the information and post here, so this is what I’ll do :slight_smile:

Coming from many years with Finale, it is without hesitation I can establish the fact that drum parts consumes most of the time of the typographical editing. Therefore a great opportunity of time saving is to have good functionality and configurability for drum parts.

In jazz/pop/rock there are essentially four notation styles that usually build up a drum part:

  1. Regular drum set notation
  2. Slashes/bar repeats with cues
  3. Rhythmic notation
  4. “Multimeasure play”.

1 is mostly used for either style indication or for very specific drum effects.
2 is a way to say to the drummer that “you might perhaps want to follow this rhythm”
3 is to say “you really need to follow this rhythm”
4 is for shortening parts where none of 1-3 are applicable but the drummer should still play

All of these will coexist in a drum part on one 5-line staff. Typically different measures have different notation styles, but it is fairly common that e. g. 2 and 3 are mixed in the same measure (e. g. one style on beats 1-2, another on 3-4). Possibly 1 and 3 might also exist in the same measure.

Regarding 4: the drummers I know typically are not so very happy with page turns, so this might be a good way of condensing the drum parts (I use it very often - essentially all drum parts I have produced contains some “multimeasure play” parts, especially during improvised solos by other band members).

In Dorico, notation styles 1 and 3 are fine as of now. For style 4 there is as far as I have understood no dedicated functionality, although it has been pointed out that some “tricks” can be used to achieve it. An easy yet flexible functionality for this would really be a time saver. Just like “multimeasure rests” or slash regions.

A more extensive matter is number 2. Such cue notes are lightly touching on the existing functionality for cue note handling in Dorico (which I btw really love for its intended purpose - this is something that I have missed for many years), but unfortunately the drum cues that I outline here are not really the same as the “orchestral cues” mainly used for players to navigate after longer periods of tacet measures. Some differences I can think of:

  • Drum cues can rarely be sourced from other “existing” instruments. Even if there is a connection between e. g. a brass section and how the drummer should play, it is usually not “direct”. The brass section may play faster notes on some beats that should not be visible for the drummer since they just cause confusion and make sightreading more difficult, and as an arranger/composer I want to indicate my wishes of which parts or notes that a brass section is playing that should be reflected in the drum part. Also, the drum cues in a particular measure might originate from different sections, e. g. beat 1 saxes, beat 2 bones, beat 4 full band. As a conclusion, the existing cue functionality can not be used directly, as a composer/arranger I want to have full control of what drum cue notes that should be where.
  • Drum cue notes must be visible in the score. Generally speaking, everything that is visible in the drum part must be visible in the score. In some cases it might be ok that the replacement of longer “slash sections” with “Play 13” might not be necessary to see in the score but is still advantegous.
  • Drum cues should essentially always be written in fixed vertical positions (pitch). Most common is the way it is outline in the picture above which means “general cue” without worrying about how the drummer plays it, but sometimes a bass/kick drum or hihat foot indications are nice (both typically written in one of the lower pitches); so preferably there should be ways of entering more than one cue voice.
  • Drum cues should essentially never have articulations.
  • Preferably, drum cue notes should be possible to preset via configuration to desired typography, and then in the simplest imaginary way just be input directly in the drum staff, ending up in the right place with the preselected appearance.

I have spent a couple of evenings trying to see what can be done regarding drum notation based on “slashes with cue notes” or “bar repeats with cue notes”. As far as I have understood so far, there are three methods suggested:

A. Slash voice as part of the kit
B. Separate system used as source for “real cues” in the drum staff
C. Slash region (with show other voices enabled)

Methods A and C are by far the easiest, but neither gives a good typography (notes are too large, scaling can be done but rests won’t scale) and both requires the notes aimed as cues to be manually resized in some way, which is not a very conveniant way of working. I would not choose any of these even if the rests scaled correctly, I want to enter notes of the right type/typography directly without having to edit them manually as a final task.

Method B gives the desired result, but is a fairly long way to go. First, a separat “cue system” needs to be created which is from a usability standpoint not really what you could wish for, but OK if you use your latest project as a kind of “template” for the next. Worse is the fact that with this method the cues will not show in the score by default, which is not OK for this kind of cue notes as mentioned above. What you then can do is to first choose to display all cues in the score, and then hide all cues with the “hide” property, and then again show the drum staff cues by turning the “hide” property off for the drum part. Another drawback with this method is that if you want to adjust e. g. the size of these cue notes, I have understood that you then also change the appearance of other cue notes in the project. It would really be great if drum cue notes could be an own category of cue notes that could be configured separately from “orchestral cues”.

I also tried a fourth method, by using a “regular” slash voice (not as part of the kit) but I can’t really make that work in a drum/percussion staff. I might have missed something. Or it might be so that the only way of achieving slash voice in a drum/percussion staff is by adding it to the kit?

Thanks for reading :slight_smile:


I pretty much agree with all of this. I would probably modify “drum cues should essentially never have articulations” to state that drum cues generally don’t need articulations of duration, but can have articulations of force.

I wrote a short 3 page handout on drum set notation last fall for my arranging students where I think I addressed most of these issues. The only one I know I neglected to address was your #4 about consolidation. Oops, I should probably revise this to include that. Anyway, here 'tis if anyone is interested.
Jazz Drum Set Notation.pdf (61.3 KB)


Thank you sir - though I have a pretty comprehensive book on drum notation, these preferences about what is most useful for a Jazz player are quite helpful and concise.

Is “Play 6” in the fourth example something we could build from the multi-rest feature with enough options?

It can be done now with this:


I always use slashes under each measure of ensemble cues, not single bar repeats. The reason should be self-explanatory.
Screen Shot 2021-02-13 at 1.32.35 PM

@notesetter honestly me too. But there are numerous examples of using also bar repeats, so I thought that it would be great to at least have it as an option.

I prefer bar repeats personally. Less visual clutter. Slashes have to actually be read or scanned to make sure there’s not a rhythmic notation, while a bar repeat is instantly recognizable that the basic groove remains the same. Obviously both are common, but as long as the basic groove that the bar repeat refers to is the same, that’s the way I typically notate it.

@gdball Yes! Exactly what I am hoping for :slight_smile:

@FredGUnn thanks for great comments and a fine document! :slight_smile:

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Just a question Todd, did you hide the number above the multi measure rest with opacity at letter A?


Yep, I just set the Alpha channel to 0. The only catch with this is you have to remember to export PDFs in color otherwise that setting won’t be active in the resultant file.

Thanks Todd, that’s what I figured.
I skipped the white BG.

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The wavy line option can work too, it just has to be attached to the end of the previous bar otherwise it will break the consolidation. I’ve seen it done this way a bunch too, so it could be a nice option if the developers ever revisit some of the options available here.

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Yup, that looks good.


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Sorry to bother you again, did you make the wavy line with text?
Tried with a Line but that breaks the multi measure rest.


Yep, but you have to attach it to the previous bar and then move it in Engrave. Not a very automated process.

Great, thanks Todd.


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Bravo Dan Tillberg!!! Exactly on point. On a big band chart, if I spend 10 hours writing all the other parts (all rewarding, fun, creative time), I will invariably spend at least 3 hours %#%#%%#ing with the ^%%$# drumset parts for all the reasons you mentioned. This is the worst part of the job, and then the best drummers might glance at the part, but they know what to play anyway.

Regarding your type-1 notation (literally writing the exact notes), you didn’t mention the dreaded extraneous rests problem. I know there are some technical reasons why this happens, but I have spent literally hours trying to make those cursed extra rests go away.

For me, drumset notation the area where Dorico (and all other notation programs for that matter) are most deficient. I see all sorts of posts here and there about really obscure notation gimmicks that that only a university musicologist could love, yet here we are, unable to efficiently produce what is a real staple of the commercial music industry.

This cries out for a 1000% improvement.

(And to put it in perspective, that hypothetical 10-hour chart I mentioned above would take me 20+ hours to produce in other notation programs, so even with all the weakness in the drumset notation, I am still better off than I was before Dorico.)


“Is ‘Play 6’ something we could build from the multi-rest feature …”

I would have thought it would fit nicely as another variation of the slash notation range or repeat bar range. I’d like to explicitly identify exactly which measures would be consolidated into the “Play xx” group, but I don’t want empty measures under that. I want the real drum beats in the playback.