Cart 0

The BeatBox Notation FAQ

Posted by Wolf Murphy on

1) Why did you create the Beat Box Notation?

One of my challenges in both learning and teaching hand drumming has been to find an accurate and intuitive way to record patterns so I could remember them and play them from my notes. None of the notation styles I found was intuitive enough and in world polyrhythm it seemed that every book had a different approach, so I created my own, based on decades of experience in educational publishing and professional typeface design and modification.

I wanted:

  • intuitive visual symbols better than the abstraction of letters;
  • to immediately SEE which hand should be playing each stroke and not have to interpret multiple symbols or letters to determine handing;
  • the cadence of the rhythm including the spaces in the rhythm—the unplayed or ghost notes—to be visually perceptible at a glance;
  • a unique symbol for each category of hand technique (open tone, bass, fingertips, etc.);
  • a simple way to communicate things like the Up and Down motion of Shekere, Hi or Lo bell hits for agogos, etc. without extra lettering.

2) What are the basic symbols in the Beat Box Notation?

Bass is represented by a filled circle; Open Tones are an outline circle; slaps are shown by a slash. I chose these to visually represent these sounds.

3) So how do I tell which hand plays the notes?

The identifier at the beginning of the line tells you. One is for Right/Left, one is for up/down like a shekere or axatse, and there are others as well.

In addition, the symbol at the end of a line lets you know whether it repeats and is a part of the groove, or if it's only played one-time:

4) So what does a complete rhythmic phrase look like?

Here's an example. It's one of the basic drills we practice in class often:

 This represents a rhythm starting with a right handed bass, with notes alternating between the hands and that could be spoken in English as "Bass Bass Tone Tone Slap Slap Tone Tone." Here is a variation demonstrating rests: 

this describes a rhythm starting with a right handed bass, with alternating notes including some rests/unplayed notes that could be spoken in English as "Bass Bass Rest Tone Slap Rest Tone Tone." And finally here's a longer phrase; the arrow at the end of line 1 indicates that the following line is part of the phrase:

5) All right, but I play the Congas. We play Closed Tones (and Slaps) and do the fancy palm/fingertips thing. What you got?

More intuitive symbols! Any Closed sound is the open symbol reversed out of a black box; and heel of palm/tips of fingers are as shown below.

6) What about triplets, yo?

Here's an example (a solo phrase from Nyabinghi drumming) showing Flams, double-time Flams, double-time, AND triplets! The underscores below the triplets indicate anything that is NOT a binary subdivision of the meter; the notes are scaled so the visual matches the time shifting.

7) This all seems pretty straightforward, but how do I know how it applies to my instrument?

In each publication we include pages describing exactly that:


8) What's the gibberish symbols under the notes there?

If there is a traditional way of vocalizing the notes for a given drum, we include that beneath the notation, and include it in our teaching as well!

9) Is there more?

Yes, lots; and a complete explanation of the entire system is included in each of our published volumes that features our notation!


Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.