World Wide Web Drum Tablature Standard. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction:

Each and every drummer has their own unique and personal style and technique of playing, from how they lay out their kit to their handling of the drum sticks. W3TDS tries to avoid those variables by presenting the drum tablature in its simplest form, without imposing any unneeded or uncomfortable technique for the drummer. The W3TDS system can be read, write and accepted by a wide range of drummers.

The W3DTS drum tablature system was created based on the guitar/bass tablature system and will be easy to understand if you understand the principle of how guitar/bass tablature works.
Basically you have a set of lines all preceeded by a symbol code (See 2. What The Symbols Mean) for example:

SN:----1--: x2

Click the 'Play' button below to listen to a MIDI example:

There is a number on each line, in sophisticated (i.e. proper) drum tablature there will always be more than one number.
Let's analyse what the above example means:

BA = Symbolic mnemonic for a bass drum
SN = Symbolic mnemonic for a snare drum

This tells us that the bass drum and the snare drum are used in this drum tablature.
But what does the number signify?

1 = Soft strike

This tells us that we must strike softly (2 = Moderate strike and 3 = Hard strike)

The '-' between the numbers simply indicate the amount of time in 0.5 second intervals the time between each strike. There is a two second gap at the start and end of each tablature line to make reading more easier.

Now let's put this example to practice:
In literary terms the above example shows that a bass drum and a snare drum are being used for this tab. The first strike is a soft strike on the bass drum, immediately after that we have another soft strike on the snare drum. The 'x' number after the tablature simply states how many times to repeat the pattern (if neccessary). In this case the number is 2 so we repeat the pattern twice. It's as simple as that. There are occasions when you have to strike drum items similtaneously, for example:


Click the 'Play' button below to listen to a MIDI example:

This simply means strike the bass drum and snare drum similtaneously with soft strikes.

Now let's analyse timing, with the following example:

SN:----1--1--: x2 slow

Click the 'Play' button below to listen to a MIDI example:

This simply means play the pattern twice very fast.

By now you should be able to read and write drum tablature, there is only one optional item you need to know; annotations, for example:

(BEAT 1 - VERSE 1)
SN:----1--1--: x2 slow ["You let me desecrate you..."] - 
Electronic drum pads preffered

(The above is an example of Chris Vrenna's 'simple' rhythm for Nine Inch Nail's 'Closer' from 'The Downward Spiral' album. - I'm not actually a big NiN fan, by the way. I just think it's a good example...)

The above example has three different types of annotations, firstly in the circle brackets we have a reference to that drum tab incase we need to reference it again instead of writing it again. The annotation enclosed in quotation marks inside the square is a lyric line which acts as an aid to the drummer on what lyrical line specifies with the tab. Annotations without question marks in square brackets represent actions, a simple example of this is [choke] (i.e. choke cymbal). Any annotations preceeded with a '-' are comments or suggestions by the tab author for that tab.
Drum tab name references are user definable, yet popular names such as VERSE #x, PRE-CHORUS #x, CHORUS #x, ROLL #x (where 'x' is a number) etc. should be used to identify consistency between drum tabs.

The following section explains the various nmemonics and terminology used in the W3DTS system.

2. What The Symbols Mean:

Cymbals: (Vary according to different drum layouts)
RC = Ride Cymbal
CC = Crash Cymbal
SC = Splash Cymbal

(If you do not have a certain cymbal, substitute it for a compatible sounding one.)

Tom Toms: (Vary according to different drum layouts)
T1 = Tom Tom #1
T2 = Tom Tom #2
FT = Floor Tom

(If you have less or more tom toms you will have to manually figure out how to apply this to a specific drum tablature.)

Bass Drum(s): (Vary according to different drum layouts)
BA = Bass Drum
or if Double-Bass
B1 = Bass Drum #1
B2 = Bass Drum #2

(Obviously, drum tablatures based on double-bass will you to have a double-bass kit, whereas single bass drum tablature can be applied to both single bass and double-bass kits.)

OH = Open Hi-Hat State
SH = Slightly Open Hi-Hat State
CH = Closed Hi-Hat State

SN = Snare Drum

(Unless specified as a comment in the tablature, the default setting for the snare is the 'loose' skin state, the other states can be 'tight', 'rimshot' or 'strike-sticks'. These can be interchanged at any time throughout a tab.)

Miscellaneous Items:
(Some drum tablature cater for miscellaneous percussion items which are mentioned here.)
CB = Cow Bell
SH = Shaker(s)
TA = Tambourine
WB = Wood Block
BE = Bell

Strike volume numbers:
(These are the numbers that appear within the tab.)
1 = Soft strike
2 = Normal strike
3 = Hard strike

(i.e. speed.)
v.slow = Very slow
slow = Slow
moderate = Moderate
fast = Fast
v.fast = Very fast

Standard suggested order of drum tablature lines:
(Please follow this structure to make drum tablatures consistent.)

MI:----: (Miscellaneous items in order of importance.)
(If double-bass then:)
HH:----: (An opened or closed state 
must be specified though, of course.)


N.B: Duplicate items can be added, but bare in mind that the majority of drummers do not own a double-bass, a variety of cymbals or an array of tom toms since 'standard' drum kits comprise minimal items such as a single bass, two cymbals, and three toms (including the floor tom).

3. Epilogue:

Copyright notices:
It is always good practice to write your name and/or contact details on any tablature you create as well as the all important title of the piece. Copyright signatures and trademarks must also be outlined to prevent infringement of your work, this also prevents you from infringing the law when tabbing other peoples work.

Author's note:
I hope that this document proved useful to understanding the W3DTS drum tablature system and will persuade you to endorse this system to make it a recognised web drum tab standard. Of course, I don't ever think that this format will be the next Hitler, so if you think my tabbing format sucks (fair enough) or you need to understand someone else's format, here's 3 popular examples from The Definitive Drum Tab Archive:
Notation #1, Notation #2, Notation #3.

Yours Sincerely.

Doctor Groove - dork@weirdness.com

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Revision 1: 19/11/98; corrected typos, enhanced fonts, emphasised examples and added MIDI example clips, plus other drum notation links.

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