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Blog posts about DrumBurp

DrumBurp v0.2 release

I’ve made version 0.2 of DrumBurp available for download. Changes include:

  • High resolution printing and PDF export. A wider range of available paper sizes.
  • Better handling of changes to measure counts: changing the count now moves the notes to the appropriate place.
  • DrumBurp will open files passed to it, so you can double-click to open .brp files in Windows.
  • Minor bug fixes:
    • Undo of ‘remove section end’ operation now gets section titles in the right place.
    • Changing fonts also changes spacing and positioning correctly.
    • More accurate ‘fit to page’ option.
    • Setting alternate endings works correctly.

Please give DrumBurp a whirl, and let me know how you get on!

Philosophy of a drum tab editor

Why did I set out to write a drum tab editor?

After a number of years of being frustrated in one way or another by the software I could find – not just the free stuff, but things I was willing to pay for – I finally snapped. I realised that the only person that cares about exactly what I want in a drum tab editor is me. Now, maybe this means that DrumBurp won’t be for everyone, but I can live with that. I’m not looking for fame and fortune here, I just want a piece of software that I can use. If anyone else gets any use of it too, then that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, but it’s not why I’m doing it.

So, before I got started, I had a think about what I was trying to create, and I decided I needed to have an overall vision to help with the difficult decisions. I came up with this.

Continue reading Philosophy of a drum tab editor

Playing Drum Tabs

Now this is interesting. DrumTabber plays back drum tabs, and is pretty forgiving about the format.

Of course, as luck would have it, it doesn’t recognise the names that DrumBurp uses for its drum lines by default. But that’s OK! One of the features on my Todo list for DrumBurp for some time has been to improve the usability of the drum kits and instruments. It already supports changing the kit on a score, and I plan to add the ability to load and save kits, and to use a range of ‘standard’ kits. I’ll just make sure that things which can be read by DrumTabber are included in the standard kits. Discovering DrumTabber will just spur me on to get working on those features!

Of course, I also plan to add a playback feature to DrumBurp directly. In the meantime, perhaps exporting to DrumTabber can be a poor man’s substitute. Maybe I’ll set it up to export the ASCII directly to the clipboard for easy pasting into the website. More ambitiously, maybe direct submission to DrumTabber is a possibility… I think I’d have to be pretty careful with that though!

EDIT: Update September 20, 2011 – sound is on its way!


I’ve been poking around a bit more to see if it’s really worth all the time and effort I’m putting into developing DrumBurp as a drum tab editor. In reality, I’d much rather have a way of creating real drum notation instead of tab, but let’s walk before we run eh?

I came across Finale the other day, which comes in a range of products from NotePad (about 10 bucks) up to Finale itself (Finale 2011 is retailing at $600, which is a bit much for me). Anyway, I thought I’d check it out and downloaded the free demo of Finale Notepad.

In a word, it’s gorgeous. It produces really fantastic looking drumset notation. So does this mean I’m abandoning DrumBurp? Er, no. I’d love to use Finale, except… it’s got the same big problem as everything else I’ve encountered for writing drum music: entering the notes is unutterably, painfully, brain-meltingly slow. I don’t mean the program is slow – it’s like lightning – I mean that the input methods themselves make me feel like scratching my eyes out.

Yes, it lets me enter any conceivable composition of notes, rests, and decorations, but 99% of the time I don’t want to. I just want to write out a piece of drum music! Most of the time I’m probably just writing something using snare, kick, ride or hihat, and crashes. Maybe some toms on the fills. Finale decides which drum you want to “hit” by where you position the mouse on the staff. Unfortunately, since it has about 15 million possible drum noises it’s really difficult to pick the one you actually want. e.g. snare, snare flam, rim shot, ghost note are all on the same line, and are distinguished by moving the mouse up and down infinitesimal amount. Absolutely pixel-perfect mouse positioning in order to choose between snare and woodblock (woodblock!) is not my idea of a good time. (Also, there doesn’t seem to be any visual distinction between open and closed hihats, but that’s not really my big problem).

The other problem I have with the input method is that I have to tell it how long I want each note to be. This leads to an interminable sequence of mouse movements or key presses – pick note length, enter note, pick note length, enter note, pick note length, blah blah blah. I know that this information is important and looks great in a finished score, but is there no easier way for me to get this data into the computer. How about helping me out? You’re the computer, I’m just a drummer.

So, I’m not giving up on DrumBurp. I’d love one day to be able to generate real drumset notation like Finale does, but it’s more important to me for the time being to be able to get the information into the computer in the first place. I noticed though that Finale will import MusicXML -maybe DrumBurp will export to this format at some point in the future so that some other program can do the “make it look nice” part, while I concentrate on the “write it down” bit.

DrumBurp screenshots

OK, so that didn’t take me long. Here’s a few shots of what DrumBurp currently looks like. It’s evolving every day, so these shots might be out of date by the time you read this, but it should give you an idea of what it looks like.

My new band is going to try Paranoid, by Black Sabbath, tomorrow so I sat down with DrumBurp and tabbed it out – none of the tabs I could find online seemed to have the fills right. Here’s what DrumBurp looks like:

The main DrumBurp editing window

A DrumBurp Score is divided into Sections, each of which has a title. Each Section is comprised of a number of Staffs, which are in turn made of of Measures. The Measures have one line for each Drum in the DrumKit and their width is defined by the number of beats in the Measure and the Time Count. Here’s the same screen shot with some of those elements labeled:

DrumBurp Score Elements

Clicking on a note position will insert the default note head for that drum at that time. Clicking it again will delete it. To insert alternate note heads, middle-click and select from a pop-up list. Some other features hinted at in the above picture:

  • Measures have time counts, with precision ranging from whole notes down to 16th-note triplets.
  • The drums in the kit can be edited by the user.
  • Repeat marks and repeat counts are supported.

Here’s what the ASCII export of that same Score looks like:

DrumBurp ASCII export

Of course, I’ve submitted this tab to the various online services so that it will be available for anyone else who’s looking for it.

So far, I’m pretty pleased. I’ve got 2 major features I want to add next – alternate repeat endings, and direct printing from DrumBurp. When they’re in, I think I’ll be able to use it as my main notation tool – there’s a lot more I want to add as well, but that will get me to a realistic minimum level of functionality where I can use it seriously. Hopefully, that will also give me some new ideas about how to improve the interface. I’ll also think about releasing a beta version – if you’re interested, get in touch.


DrumBurp is a project I’ve been working on, off and on, over the last 6 months or so. I’ve only really been concentrating on it since around the start of January.

The idea is to create a really simple program for the fast creation of tablature for drum kit. There are some good programs out there, notably TabTrax and DTab, but none that really seem to do what I want. For the creation of general music notation I’m a big fan of Nted, but again it doesn’t quite fit for what I need. There are two things that I really want:

  • A cross-platform editor – I work on both Linux & Windows from time to time so something which will run on both is important.
  • Fast, simple creation of drum tab – so with some programs I could notate anything I’d ever possibly want to. But 99.999% of the time, I just want to write a simple bit of drum music down as quickly as possible, especially if I’m listening to and tabbing a piece of music. The interface should be helping me to do that, not making me click through a million menus and drop-down boxes just to say that I want a flam instead of a normal strike.

Now, Nted produces absolutely beautiful notation, and it’s cross platform, but it’s painfully slow to write drum music with. DTab & TabTrax are (I believe) Windows only, and they both have a couple of quirks that mean they don’t quite work for me – TabTrax has an idiosyncratic notion of time counting which I can’t wrap my head around, and it’s interface has never quite worked for me. DTab, on the other hand, is almost there, but it doesn’t have a great amount of flexibility in which note heads you can add. They’re both pretty good pieces of software, and enough people use them to show that they’re obviously doing something right, but when I’ve used them I’ve always felt like I’m fighting the interface – it’s getting in the way rather than making it easy for me.

The final straw was that no program I’ve used has ever given me a way of saying “You see this hi-hat right here? Yep, that one. I’m probably going to hit that 8 times-a-bar for the next n bars, so go ahead and write that down for me, would ya?” It just feels like I’m working for the computer’s convenience, rather than the other way around. So, DrumBurp was born.

My big thing with this is that I want the interface to always be about getting the essential information into the machine as fast as possible. I don’t know about you, but my memory of a groove or fill expires pretty quickly when I’m trying to work it out, and I need to get as much of it out of my head and into the magic box as soon as possible. We’ll see how successful I am…

So far I have a pretty good prototype. I’ve written some reasonably complicated pieces with it, and it does a nice job of both representing them on the screen and exporting them to ASCII. I guess at some point I’ll put up some screenshots, and maybe think about trying to find some beta-testers. I’m not looking to make any money out of this – I just want to have a tool that I can use, and if anyone else finds it useful, so much the better.