Learn to Read Drum Music – Part 8 – Imaginary Bar Lines

Drummers! Thanks once again for checking out this Learn to Read Drum Music Series. We’ve explored a lot from the basics of whole notes all the way to 16th notes and beyond, dotted notes, time signatures, and ties.

In this post, we will be taking a look at a device that is used to make reading and writing as simple as possible: Imaginary Bar Lines.

If you have stumbled upon this page out of order, It might be a good idea to head back to the older posts to get an idea of what we’re talking about:

If all of the sections look familiar to you, then we can move onto our next topic.

What are Imaginary Barlines?


When reading drum music notation, things should always be as easy as possible. Simplicity eliminates a lot of headaches when reading and makes things more efficient and faster. To help this efficiency along, we use something called an Imaginary Bar line.

An imaginary barline is not actually visible, but it helps divide bars into smaller, more readable chunks. For example, when looking at a bar in 4/4 time, we would place the imaginary bar line in between beats 2 and 3:

Imaginary Barline

These invisible bar lines are very useful when reading because they help simplify things. This is because of the rule:

NEVER WRITE ACROSS THE IMAGINARY BAR LINE

This may seem extreme, but trust me, when you’ve read enough music, you become very grateful for the writers that follow this rule.

To help you visualize the imaginary bar line, we will look at a few bad examples and then a better way to write them:

Beaming

Beaming over an Imaginary Bar Line

Although tempting, beaming over the imaginary bar line is not a good idea. It is always best to split the notes to make reading easier. Both examples are played and sound the same, however the second example is a better way to write it.

Correct Quarter Note Use

Quarter over the Bar Line

This is an example of when you should use a tie. Having a regular quarter note cross the imaginary bar line is confusing and may cause the reader to make a mistake. Using ties can help readers quickly understand what is going on.

Dotted Notes

Correct Dotted Quarter Use

Here is an example of when you would want to use a tie instead of a dotted note. The second example is significantly easier to read. Dotted notes are good to use, but make sure they do not cross an imaginary bar line.


That’s it! You can apply the idea of imaginary bar lines to almost any time signature. Using these rules should help divide music into more understandable chunks when reading and writing.

How are things going? Be sure to comment below to let me know!

Happy drumming!

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