Drag notation

Hey all,

I've been working on a drum beat book for some time now, and long story short I'm up to a chapter on drags and have been thinking about the confusing way in which they are notated.

Drags are of course usually notated with two grace notes. This would imply that a drag doesn't really contribute rhythmically to the beat - it just enters slightly before the beat (or more confusingly on the beat, delaying the next beat slightly since they're usually written as appoggiaturas not acciaccaturas). But the way I hear most drags in beats is more like a double ghost note - they generally last a 16th note in total and are often two 32nd note hits.

When you have a beat with 16th notes on the hihat and play a drag, the drag then often enters right on time with a 16th note hihat - the 'a' of '2 e and a' for instance - so writing it as grace notes doesn't make sense since that would imply the hits are between the hihats. In this case I've switched to writing them as a 16th note ghost note with a tremolo sign - i.e. two 32nd note ghost notes.

But my question is - wouldn't it make a lot more sense to just write them like that all the time? And then if it's more of a buzzy drag instead, to write it as a 16th note buzz 'Z' tremolo ghost note?

I would prefer to write it like that for the sake of accuracy but feel like most drummers wouldn't know how to read it.

Deeply nerdy confusing question but I hope someone can provide a perspective!

Thanks
Mike
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Yeah, I hate that traditional type of notation, unless the drag stroke is actually meant to be an unmetered buzz, like with an orchestral ruff. That's the only thing I use it for. A lot of drags in Wilcoxon are that way-- I believe they're meant to be played in rhythm. Using that same convention he has a really strange way of writing 7 stroke rolls-- he combines the ruff notation with a normal roll written with slashes.

I write metered open drags (meaning a double stroke, not a buzz) in rhythm, with a single slash. So for example here's the same measure of music the way you might see it in Wilcoxon, and the way I would write it:

drag-example.png

I use that Z symbol for single buzz strokes, or for buzz rolls in a context where normal rolls written with slashes are assumed to be open rolls-- like a rudimental context. I can't recall ever having to play or write a metered drag passage like my thing above using buzz strokes instead of double strokes.
 
Yes, this is great feedback, thank you!

I am more self taught than some and come from a more music composition background than purely drummer background, so this notation had always confused me. I guess it’s just one of those idiosyncratic drum things that kinda stuck.

I was referring to this more in a drum kit beat context than a snare line context. but of course the concept is exactly the same! I’ve used that wilcoxon book a bit myself so perhaps I picked up that notation habit from there. I guess it’s also the fact that the drag rudiment itself is written in that unmetered way which has possibly lead to it being written that way in other contexts.

In any case, good to know I’m not the only one who has an issue with this! Think I’ll stick with the more accurate way of writing them as in your example.

Thanks again.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
No problem-- fyi the book Chop Busters by Ron Fink is a good style example for modern open roll and drag notation-- might be worth tracking down a copy if you're going to be doing a lot of writing.
 

ZackP

Junior Member
The buzz notation is interesting but I think the old school method makes it easier to read if you’re doing an open roll lead in vs a buzz. I was always taught the rudiments should be performed open and closed.
Yeah, I hate that traditional type of notation, unless the drag stroke is actually meant to be an unmetered buzz, like with an orchestral ruff. That's the only thing I use it for. A lot of drags in Wilcoxon are that way-- I believe they're meant to be played in rhythm. Using that same convention he has a really strange way of writing 7 stroke rolls-- he combines the ruff notation with a normal roll written with slashes.

I write metered open drags (meaning a double stroke, not a buzz) in rhythm, with a single slash. So for example here's the same measure of music the way you might see it in Wilcoxon, and the way I would write it:

View attachment 90301

I use that Z symbol for single buzz strokes, or for buzz rolls in a context where normal rolls written with slashes are assumed to be open rolls-- like a rudimental context. I can't recall ever having to play or write a metered drag passage like my thing above using buzz strokes instead of double strokes.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
It's all good, it comes down to what you're used to and what works for you. Sometimes when old school rudimental people say open and closed they just mean slow and fast-- what I mean by it is double stroke rolls/drags vs multiple bounce. And a lot of rudiments don't really have a multiple bounce version-- like a flam drag or a dragadiddle -- it would be weird to do them with a buzz stroke.
 

TMe

Senior Member
Drags are of course usually notated with two grace notes. This would imply that a drag doesn't really contribute rhythmically to the beat...
That's how I was taught. If the drag is written as two grace notes it doesn't have any specific note value, so the drag and the following tap get treated as a single note (like a flam). If the drag is written with with note values, then it gets played with note values.

That's just one approach, though, not something carved in stone.
 

buddhadrummer

Junior Member
Alan Dawson was adamant about the notes' relationship to the beat that followed being the same regardless of the tempo. The three-note group would sound the same whether played slow or fast. I believe that's why he chose to write them the way he did. They were taught this way strictly as a rudiment.
I tend to agree with his approach, and when I write this in a groove as in the examples above, I just write them as sixteenth-note ghost notes, because that's how they function within the rhythm. But when used as two identifiable but metrically unrelated notes before an accent, I use the ambiguous notation he used.

I'm not disputing any previous comments, simply offering that this was how Alan shared it with his students. His emphasis was that the three-note group always sound the same. On the other hand, if one were to play them fitting in the contextual metric subdivision, then they would be notated in line with that fact.
 

vindrums

Senior Member
Things like drags and flams are called "ornaments" because thats what they are...they are there to ornament the note that follows them. It doesnt matter if they are "open" like in rudimental drumming or "closed" like in a lot of the classical repitore, they are not supposed to be given the same emphasis as the note following them. If a composer wanted them to be interpreted as 32nd notes or diddles, they would have written them like that. At least thats the way I was always taught to interpret them.
 

TMe

Senior Member
The three-note group would sound the same whether played slow or fast.
That's how I was taught. Play the drag with definite note values and push for tempo. Then set the metronome to about 1/4 the tempo, and play the three-note goupings exactly the same - with bigger spaces between them.

I was also taught that if the drag has definite note values, it's not a drag, and shouldn't be written as such. I think that view has faded away, though.

I go the opposite way. If I have a pattern that's setting up a tap, I write it like a set of grace notes, regardless of its note value. If, for example, I have a five-stroke roll ending on 1, I'll write the first four strokes as grace notes, even if they should have definite note values. That's just easier for me to read.
 
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