Better drumset notation (with focus on stem direction)

• May 7, 2021 - 12:53

I'm a drummer and drum teacher, and does make quite a few drum sheets. In doing so, I've found the drumset notation in Musescore to have some shortcomings. It works quite well, but with a few changes, it would be absolutely great.

First is a relatively small thing, but quite important. I've never seen open hihat notated on the E space, ever. Only in Musescore. I know I can change this myself, but we the default really should match the standard here (this is one of the few things in drum notation that's quite commonly agreed upon). The common way is to add an "o" over the open hihat:
Hihat notation.png
This means we would need the drum notation input to handle adding articulations. If that is difficult coding wise I have no idea - but that would be very smooth indeed.

Secondly, you don't play congas while playing drumset very often. We could loose those from the presets, I think, they're just clutter.

Third is the big one, and my pet peeve. Currently, the musescore preset conforms to the "hands up, feet down" standars, where hands go in voice 1/stems up and feet goes in voice 2/stems down. This is hardly the standard. It's one standard, but definitely not the only one. Often it's really bad.

There are many ways to do this, but I think there are three major ones:
1: all stems up
2: hands up, feet down
3: cymbals up (except hihat pedal), drums down

They all have their pros and cons, and I don't think they're interchangeable. You use the one that best fits the music. Here's two examples of grooves, comparing the different approaches.
Stem_direction_shootout 1.png

In these two examples, hands up, feet down comes out last. These next three examples shows completely different situations, whit different winners:
Stem_direction_shootout 2.png

So, I think Musescore needs to have three different options for stem direction deafaults, with an easy way to switch between them, rather than having to go into "edit drumset - load" every time. There could be switch buttons included in the drum notation "bar", which has a lot of dead space. Any custom presets you make could also show up here, so that the "edit drumset" button actually just edits (and makes new) drumsets - and does not work like a switch.

Also, you should be able to highlight sections of music and change preset by pushing those same buttons. Then you could A/B them easily to see which one would fit your current situation best.
musescore drum notation stem presets.jpg

Hopes this all makes sense, and that someone with skills and knowhow takes the bait... :-)
.mscz of my "presentation" included for anyone interested.

Attachment Size
Stem direction shootout.mscz 21.17 KB


These are definitely good suggestions.

Regarding the open hi-hat, it’s precisely because we don’t have a way to connect articulations to MIDI pitches that we had no choice but to go with an alternate approach to get sound to work “out of the box”. Definitely something to revisit once a new playback engine is in place.

Regarding the alternatives to hands up / feet down, probably the simplest solution is to add new drum set instruments to instruments.xml. Then you could select which you want when creating your score, also change between them like a saxophone doubling on flute, using the instrument change text.

Should be straightforward enough to create a version that you could specify as a second instrument definition file in Edit / Preferences / Score - no reason that would have to wait for MuseScore 4 or beyond. Assuming someone wants to go to the trouble of creating this...

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, I think figuring out a way to automatically add an articulation to a note like this would be the way to go. There's two "directions" into this, I think, one is that you write regular hihat notes, and when you add the articulation it changes the playback. The other direction is that when you add your open hihat sound via the drums input dialogue (a#2, but could be placed on any line/space), it automatically adds the articulation - which would then be just a dummy, without affecting playback). Both would be handy to have...

The stem direction issue is important to figure out, I think. I myself have sorted it by making different drumset presets. Changing between them is doable, but a bit slow. I'm not sure changing instrument presets is faster, but I might give that a go. Assuming this is something one does at ones own end, right? It would not be something that would be distributed to everyone, as I understand?

If there can be only one "standard" natively in Musescore, I would very much advise to go for cymbals up, drums down, as it works for more situations than hands up - but I might get pushback on this from other drummers... :-)

In reply to by Marius Munthe-Kaas

I'm not a drummer, but I work professionally as an arranger and as an editor. I have seen hundreds of published arrangements with drum parts, and virtually every one of them uses hands/feet as the prevailing convention. So I would strongly oppose any change to the default in this regard.

Regarding alternate styles, the method I am describing is available today, but indeed, each individual arranger would need to do it for themselves. Of course, if one person created the instruments.xml file, they could upload it here and share it with the world...

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, I (grudgingly) agree that it might be a bad idea to change the default - as hands/feet seem to be slightly more common. Though, my feeling is that cymbals/drums is just as (or more) common in drum books, written by drummers. And when I google drum set sheet music, it tends to be more or less equally split between the three main defaults.

As I said earlier, providing the actual drum set presets is easy. What I'm suggesting (and I'm happy to wait for it to be implemented properly, no rush on my end) is that all of them are included, and for there to be an easy way to change between them.

I'm trying to do some triplet-based exercises for a book for Jazz drumming and would like to have everything stems up similar to the All Stems Up - Example 1. But I can't get "polyphonic" notation in one voice and I can't seem to get everything on a single stem without cluttered rests in multiple voices. For totally linear phrases the one-voice method is great but once I have any kind of drum set "harmony" I have to contend with all these rests and notes with their own stems that's way too cluttered. I want the drum set voices (ride, snare bass drum and pedal hat) to be able to simply line up where they hit together without all the extraneous mess. Is there something I'm missing?
Edit: I'd also like to see a stripped-down set that doesn't have all of the percussion. Just bass, snare, snare cross-stick, pedal hat, stick hat, 2-4 toms, ride, ride bell and crash.

In reply to by garydonnelly10…

If you post a picture of the result you want, we can try to show you how to achieve it. But note, while it'spossible to notate "most" drum rhythms in a single voice, tuplets almost by definition will require multiple voices, unless all limbs are using the same division of the beat.

As for creating a stripped-down drum set, that's easy enough, just use Edit Drumset to remove what you don't want. See the Handbook section on drum notation for more info.

In reply to by garydonnelly10…

If I read you correctly, you haven't yet made a custom drumset. You need to make one (using edit drumset), where all the parts you need is set to have all stems up and to use voice one. Then it should be easy enough plotting all the notes «polyphonically» using the mouse (point and click).

Situations like this is exactly why I'd like those presets to be added to Musescore natively, with a simple «choose notation» easilly available. :-)

In reply to by Marius Munthe-Kaas

Hello Marius,
My name is Jan, i live in holland (kaas!), drumteacher and i've read your story about notation. Very clear and interesting.
My question is; have you come af bit further in a fast change between the 3 possible way of notation? Maybe you could send me a document or a style which brings me a bit further.
Thanks in advance!

In reply to by Marius Munthe-Kaas

Awesome post Marius and I agree 100 % to all what you say! There are different needs for different kind of approaches to what is being played.

I've done a custom kit in "Edit drumset" with all stem directions up and all drums have default voice 1. But the kick drum (no. 36 c2) and first floor tom (no. 43 g2) always get stem direction down and belong to voice 2 even if it's correct in Edit drumset.

Have you had this problem, if so, how did you solve it? I've attached some files that might help.

Attachment Size
Eget trumset - Reaper midi mapping.drm 5.38 KB
Drum test.MID 177 bytes
Drum test.mscz 15.07 KB

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