Learn to Read Drum Music – Part 7 – Tied Notes

Hey all you drummers! So glad you’ve come back for yet another lesson from my How to Read Drum Music series. This topic has builds upon the last post about dotted notes, so if you haven’t checked that out yet, do yourself a favor and catch up.

In this section we will be adding on to what we’ve learned about note additions, and look at Tied Notes. Tied notes are similar to dots, but have a few extra applications.

If you are already scratching your head, you may want to go back and look at the earlier topics to catch up:

If all of these look familiar to you, then let’s go ahead with the next topic

What are Tied Notes?

What Are Tied Notes

A Tie is a curved line that connects two or more notes together. Tied notes indicate that they are to be played together as one continuous note with the value of all the notes combined.

In other words, when playing drums, you will strike the first note, but will not re-strike any of the other notes it is tied to.

Let’s visualize this with 2 tied whole notes:

2 Tied Whole Notes

In the above example, we have two whole notes tied together. As we know, 2 whole notes in 4/4 time will take up 2 bars. Since both whole notes are tied together, you play the first whole note on bar 1, and then hold it until the end of the 2nd bar. If the tie was not there, you would normally play each whole note individually on beat 1 of both bars.

You can also have more than 2 notes tied together:

4 Tied Quarter Notes

In this example, we have 4 quarter notes tied together. Since we know to hold every tied note, you would only play the first note on beat 1, and would hold until the end of the bar.

In reality, 4 tied quarter notes is identical in sound to a whole note:

Identical Bars

Lastly, you can also tie notes of different values together:

Different Tied Notes

In the above example, we have a half note tied to a quarter note, meaning the note will be held for 3 beats. The 2nd bar has a quarter tied to an 8th, which equals 1.5 beats, and then another quarter tied to an 8th. If you are still confused, look at the counting written above, which indicates the notes you actually play.

What are Tied Notes Used For?

You may have already noticed the similarities between tied notes and dotted notes. For example, a dotted quarter note is the same as a quarter note tied with an 8th note. So why do we have tied notes?

Tied notes are used mostly when going across bar lines. Let’s look again at the tied whole note example again:

2 Tied Whole Notes

In this example, if you eliminated the tie, you would get two whole notes instead of one single note held out for 2 bars. Without ties, there would be no way to have a single note span across 2 bars.

Tied notes are also useful for something I like to call Imaginary Bar lines. We will look at those in the next post.

Difference Between Ties and Slurs

If you are already experienced with reading, or have previously played a melodic instrument like piano, then you might have already seen a Slurred Note.

Visually speaking, a slur looks similar to a tie. The main difference is that you can only tie notes together that are on the same position in a staff, while slurs are used with different notes that are either higher or lower on the staff.

Difference Between Slurs and Ties

As you can see, in the example above, there is only one tie between the notes on beats 2 and 3. This is because they are in the same position on the staff. The other notes are connected together with slurs. In written music, ties deal with rhythm, and slurs correspond with melody. 

A slur indicates that the notes are to be played as smoothly as possible. Another word for this is legato. The point is to connect the notes together as closely as possible without any breaks in sound.

As drummers, we do not use slurs often because we don’t read melodic notes. However, if you are a percussionist playing a pitched instrument like timpani or vibraphone, you will see slurs often.

For our purposes of reading drum sheet music, this is as far as we need to understand slurs. If you are still interested and would like to know more, Music Reading Savant has a nice article on the differences between slurs and ties.

Do Drummers Need Tied Notes?

If you happen to be playing everything on a drum practice pad (Which is a good idea, by the way), you may be wondering why ties are needed. Why not use rests instead?

Drums have very little sustain, which would make ties almost useless, but this is incorrect for a few reasons.

First, ties can make reading rhythms easier than cluttering them up with rests and dots. In fact, a lot of writers prefer using ties over dotted notes because they are easier to see. A tiny dot can be missed, but slurs are easy to spot.

Second, just because you are not playing a melodic instrument, does not mean that you don’t need to understand what other musicians are doing. The goal is to play music together, and seeing ties can help you relate to what everyone is playing.

Last, drummers actually do have instruments that sustain, such as the cymbals. If you are to hit a crash cymbal, it could sustain well over several bars, but if you see a tied note, you will have a better idea of how long to let the cymbal sustain for.

Time to Test Your Skills

By now you should have a good understanding of the tie, how it works, what it looks like, and how it is different from slurs. Now let’s test your readings skills using ties along with everything else we have learned up to this point:

Reading Tied Notes Final Exam

Some of this can be tricky, so if you find yourself running into problems, click here for the answers.

So how did everything go? By this point, we have made a lot of progress and are almost ready to start moving these rhythms to the drumset.

How are things going? Put your comments down below.

Happy drumming!


  1. Roger Karshnersays:

    Great info. Clarified the problem. Thanks.

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