Drummers -- there are several good reasons for learning to read drum music. This story illustrates one good reason. Here is a true story from my own experience.
I remember a time when I was working with The Diamonds, and as the rhythm section, we were hired to be the back-up band on a 10 day tour with The Platters, a world famous vocal group from the 1950's.
The Platters were supposed to show up a day before the tour to rehearse with the band for the show. But, because of transportation problems, the Platters didn't arrive until just a half hour before show time. We were opening the tour that night at a college in southern Oregon.
The house was packed, completely sold out, standing room only. Just before the show was scheduled to start, the Platters' musical director walked in and handed me a stack of charts and said, "follow me".
Fortunately, I had spent some time while in college reading simple concert band charts. While I wasn't a proficient reader at the time, I could read enough to make it through the show that first night. The tour went on playing to packed houses each night and was a tremendous success, with standing ovations every night.
If I hadn't had a basic ability to read charts, I would have washed out. Being able to find your way through a drum chart can be a life saver on some gigs. Even having enough knowledge to read changing time signatures from a piano, or horn chart can be vital to the working drummer. Today, I use and write charts for virtually all my recording work.
Not every situation you find yourself in as a drummer is going to require that ability, but it's good to have it when you need it. Over the past twenty years, I've had to use charts for most of the shows I've done.
Often I've been in situations where there just wasn't time to rehearse with the band. Sometimes the music director only has time to throw out a piano or horn chart and then it's ". . . away we go," and there you are in front of five or ten thousand people. In that kind of situation, you have to make it work, and you can with a little forethought.
Virtually, for everything I do these days as a side man player, I'm provided with either a drum chart, a piano chart, or simply a chord and lyric lead sheet as a road map to the tunes at hand. It can be a life saver if you only have time for one rehearsal before you go live before a real audience.
Your drumming can take you anywhere you want to go. Work hard, be supportive of your fellow musicians, have fun, and above all -- Keep The Beat.