Under The Bad Sheets

You get what you pay for is what people say. However, that doesn’t seem to ring true for drum sheet music. Take a look at this sheet music which is being peddled by a well-established, seven-decade-strong USA publisher as the “official drum sheet music” for Under Pressure by David Bowie:

If you’re one of the unfortunate drummers who paid money for this, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that purchasing from a publisher of such stature would be a safe purchase decision. At the very least, you’d expect more notation to be present on the page. Maybe a drum beat or two wouldn’t be that much to ask in return for your money. The sad truth is that nearly all drum sheet music that the major publishers are now pushing online is flawed and difficult to use. I suppose it could be summed up like this: a general lack of care and respect for the readers of drum music.

With that said, the goal of this article really isn’t to batter publishers of garbage sheet music. Although, it would be a bit of a stress release for us. Rather, we’d like to set you on the path to understanding what a quality drum sheet is comprised of, which can help you to understand why you may be having difficulty reading music. Your reading skills aren’t always to blame. Here are 5 key components of professional drum sheet music:


There isn’t necessarily a standard notation for drums that everyone agrees upon. Because of this, every drum sheet needs to include a drum key. Take a look at the extensive drum key we use in our version of Under Pressure. This leaves the guesswork behind.

2. Number of Pages

Music stands can only fit so many pages. I’ve seen drummers use all kinds of creative techniques to make their pages viewable while playing. From stringing pages up on a clothes line, taping them to the wall, extending the stand with a cut-up cardboard box … you name it.

However, sheet music transcribers should make every attempt to reduce the overall number of pages. It’s not always possible to keep the page count to an amount that fits comfortably on a music stand, but including unnecessary elements in the music wastes a lot of space. Here’s another example of “official drum sheet music” for Shut Up and Dance by a well-established publisher. Maybe they assume that including the piano part will be a pleasant surprise for drummers. In reality, it’s a major distraction and waste of space.

Unless you’re Don Henley or Phil Collins, including notation for the melody and lyrics within the drum sheet music is probably an unnecessary waste of space, as well. Here’s a major publisher’s version of the drum sheet music for Black Dog (see below). Two bars per line, anyone? That’s an average of one page flip for every 8 bars.


Nearly all of the drum sheet music I’ve seen peddled by the major publishers today exercises poor spacing. The reason for this falls back to our assumption of a general lack of care and respect. From a software perspective, even the top notation software available today has spacing issues by default. Many times, notes need to be moved by hand (with the mouse) in order to space them correctly. This, of course, takes a lot of time. Some publishers must not be willing to take their time, but they are willing to take your money.

Here’s a major publisher’s “official drum sheet music” for Yellow by Coldplay. Notice the spacing of the hi-hat strokes throughout, especially in the third bar. This makes even a simple beat hard to read.


It should come as no surprise to anyone selling sheet music that customers expect a certain level of accuracy in the sheet music they buy. However, publishers seem to be in such a frenzy to push out drum sheet music online that they apparently have disregarded the need for accurate notation. Maybe they assume that we won’t know the difference, anyway.

Here’s an example of one such sheet for “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age.

If you don’t know the actual drum part, it might look ok to you. Aside from the fact that the open hi-hat circles are supposed to be aligned with the note head, not the stem. And, there’s no drum key. And, the 4th bar could be spaced better. And, why do we need the chords for the drums? How do you play an Em on drum set?

Aside from all of that, here is what’s actually played on No One Knows (see below).

The only bar the major publisher got “accurate” is bar 3. Although, who notates a crash cymbal like they did? Very unusual.

In the example below, maybe the publisher decided that not including all of the bass strokes would save money on printing. Here’s “official drum sheet music” for Hold The Line by Toto, followed by an example of what Jeff Porcaro actually plays on the track.

Here’s Porcaro’s actual drum part (below). Notice the bass strokes that were missed in the example above. Also notice the poor note spacing above. Some hi-hat strokes are squished together, and some are spread apart.


Lastly, any sheet music you buy should represent a thoughtful, caring presentation of the music. When thought and care have been put into a sheet, you know it. It feels good to look at. It’s easy to follow and read. There’s just something about it that makes it better.

There are a few websites around run by individuals who boast about completing a handful of sheet music transcriptions per day. There is obviously a lack of care and thought that goes into their sheet music. There are mistakes, presentation problems and an overall lack of quality.

At OnlineDrummer.com, our team works together to provide the clearest presentation, accurate notation, and the highest quality standards. We hash it out until we’re confident that our sheet music is the best it can be. We’re very proud that our sheet music outshines even the “big-dog” publishing corporations. While they rely on their name and history to dupe people into a sale, we rely on our talents and standards to bring respectful drum sheet music to the drumming community.

The next time you’re shopping around for drum sheet music, keep these 5 key components in mind. Having a quality piece of music in front of you is the first step to an efficient and successful learning experience. It’s time to make “fighting your sheet music” a thing of the past!

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Publisher of OnlineDrummer.com, Alfred Publishing author and veteran Drum! Magazine Groove Analysis video instructor, Nate holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education from John Carroll University in Cleveland, OH and is currently undertaking a Master of Arts in Education at the University of Findlay in Ohio.