Orchestral percussion notation question

I’m creating a part for suspended cymbal which often changes back and forth between a “normal” beater (i.e. a felt headed mallet I assume) and a snare drum stick.

A neat way to show the changes would be use two different note heads. Is there a “standard” convention for this? Obviously the score will have a text description of the notation used, but there’s no sense doing it different from the rest of the world just for the sake of it.

This is a single-line staff instrument with its own player, not part of a drum kit.

Just text will do, please and thank you. Percussionists are known to be laid back and willing to roll with it, but I’m sure the musician will be grateful. You might have more luck with pictograms rather than different noteheads, but, as an editor, I am very reticent about allowing them unless the composer can really make his case.

Well, the problem with “just text” is the sheer volume of annotations. That is bad enough in the MS score, but condensed into the part, in some places the notes would be almost buried by the text when the specified beater changes every two or three notes - and even looking at this as a non-percussionist, the composer didn’t add all those performance directions just for fun.

Pictograms rather than different noteheads could be worth exploring, though. Thanks for that idea!

Well, I do concede that there is certainly more to it than it seems at first sight. I mean, if it’s stumping you, it’s no doubt a tricky instance of the problem. If it really is dense (even with abbreviations?), than I could definitely suggest pictograms with a bit more confidence.

Maybe it would be easier to actually notate it on two lines? I assume the intent is one beater in each hand?

Well, my “experience level” with percussion notation is about the same as it is with chord symbols - on a scale of 1 to 10, somewhere around 1 :slight_smile:

Mostly (but not always) it is rolls with standard beaters and hits with drumsticks. So I guess the player would probably use double ended sticks. That was what made me think different note heads on one line could be a nice notation.

Using 2 lines would push the total number of single lines from 9 to 11 (plus 3 or possibly 4 timpanists and 5 more staves of pitched percussion!) but it’s another option to consider.

I’ve written timp sticking with different beaters with normal and cross-head noteheads, without any problem. Far better than lots of text.

Perhaps you could try one line, but with noteheads above and below to indicate soft or hard?


I’m definitely getting the message that the words “percussion notation” and “standard convention” don’t usually belong in the same sentence :slight_smile:

But you can’t have too many possible solutions to choose between.

As a percussionist, I would prefer text. Different note heads are fine, provided they are very distinguishable (i.e., from the distance of the music stand), if there truly is that much back and forth. Such as 4+ changes per measure.

If we are talking changing every 20 bars or so, I would lean very much towards text instead.

Just my opinion…


I’ve used normal and crossheads when the different beaters create some kind of rhythm, rather than just a change of sticks.