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Snare drum

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Snare drum

Snare drum
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 211.212.11
(Individual double-skin cylindrical drums, one skin used for playing)
The drum kit

1 Bass drum 2 Floor tom 3 Snare drum
4 Hanging toms 5 Hi-hat 6 Crash cymbal
7 Ride cymbal 8 Splash cymbal 9 China cymbal

Not shown

Sizzle cymbal Swish cymbal Crash/ride cymbal
Cowbell Wood block Tambourine
Rototom Octoban Temple block
Gong Triangle

See also

Drum hardware Drum stick Traps case

The snare drum or side drum is a widely used unpitched percussion instrument. It is often used in orchestras, marching bands, concert bands, parades, drum corps and many other applications.

It is the center of the drum kit, the most prominent drum in most marching and stage bands, and the instrument that students of both orchestral and kit drumming learn to play first.

The snare drum is considered a highly accessible instrument, offered to beginners in the same way that students study Orff instruments. However, the accessibility lends itself to older learners as well, with varying levels of instruction offered for all age groups. Upper level playing (such as performing with classical orchestras, marching bands, drum corps etc.) requires further instruction and refinement of the art.

The snare drum is almost always double-headed, with rattles (called snares) of gut, metal wire or synthetics stretched across one or both heads. There are three main types where:

  • A single set of snares is applied to the underside of the bottom (Resonant) (unplayed) head. Orchestral and drum kit players use extremely thin, specialised resonant snare drum heads, far too light to be played directly, for this bottom head.
  • Marching and Pipe band side drums have a second set of snares on the underside of the top (played or batter) head on the inside of the drum, as well as a set on the underside of the bottom head.
  • The caixa de guerra ("war box") and tarol are Latin American snare drums with a single set of snares on the top of the top head.[1] A few of these drums omit the bottom head.

Different types of modern snare drums can be found, like piccolo snares, that have a smaller depth and popcorn snares that are smaller in diameter for a higher pitch, rope-tuned snares (maracatu snare), and the Brazilian tarol, which commonly has snares on the top of the upper drumhead.

Historically, snare drums have been used in military and parading contexts to produce drum cadences. Today in popular music, especially with rock drum kits, the snare drum is typically used to play a backbeat pattern.[2]

Popular backbeat pattern on snare drum[2] About this sound   


Snare drums may be made from various wood, metal, or acrylic materials. A typical diameter for snare drums is 14 inches (36 cm). Marching snare drums are deeper in size than snare drums normally used for orchestral or drum kit purposes, often measuring in at a foot long. Orchestral and drum set snare drum shells are about 6 inches (15 cm) deep. Piccolo snare drums are even more shallow at about 3 inches (7.6 cm) deep. Soprano, popcorn, and firecracker snare drums have diameters as small as 8 inches (20 cm) and are often used for higher-pitched special effects.[3]

Most snare drums are constructed in plies that are heat- and compression-moulded into a cylinder. Steam-bent shells consist of one ply of wood that is gradually rounded into a cylinder and glued at one seam. Reinforcement hoops are generally needed on the inside surface of the drum to keep it perfectly round. Segment shells are made of multiple stacks of segmented wood rings. The segments are glued together and rounded out by a lathe. Similarly, stave shells are constructed of vertically glued pieces of wood into a cylinder (much like a barrel) that is also rounded out by a lathe. Solid shells are constructed of one solid piece of hollowed wood.

The Heads or skins consist of a batter head, which forms the playing surface on the top of the drum and a resonant head on the bottom. The resonant head is usually much thinner than the batter head and is not beaten while playing. Most modern drums use plastic (Mylar) skins of around 10 mils thicknness, sometimes with multiple plys (usually two) of around 7 mils for the batter head. In addition, tone control rings or dots can be manufactured on the skins either on the outer surface or the inner surface to control overtones and ringing and can be found positioned in the centre or close to the edge hoops or both. Resonant heads are usually only a few mils thick to enable them to respond with the movement of the batter head as it is played. Pipe band requirements have led to the development of a kevlar based head to enable very high tuning to produce a very high pitched cracking snare sound.


A blue snare drum

The snare drum seems to have descended from a medieval drum called the Tabor, which was a drum with a single gut snare strung across the bottom. It is a bit bigger than a medium tom and was first used in war, often played with a fife or pipe; the player would play both the fife and drum (see also Pipe and tabor).[4][5] Tabors were not always double headed[6] and not all may have had snares. By the 15th century, the size of the snare drum increased and had a cylindrical shape. This simple drum with a simple snare became popular with the Swiss mercenary troops who used the fife and drum around the 15th-16th century. The drum was made deeper and carried along the side. Further developments appeared in the 17th century, with the use of screws to hold down the snares, giving a brighter sound than the rattle of a loose snare. During the 18th century, the snare drum underwent changes that would improve its characteristic sound. Metal snares appeared in the 20th century. Today the snare drum is used in pop music and modern orchestral music.[7]

Snare drum cadences performed by the United States Navy Band

Problems playing these files? See .

Much of the development of the snare drum and the drum rudiments is closely tied with the use of the snare drum in the military. In his book, The Art of Snare Drumming, Sanford A. Moeller (of the "Moeller Method" of drumming) states, "To acquire a knowledge of the true nature of the [snare] drum, it is absolutely necessary to study military drumming, for it is essentially a military instrument and its true character cannot be brought out with an incorrect method. When a composer wants a martial effect, he instinctively turns to the drums".

Before the advent of radio and electronic communications, the snare drum was often used to communicate orders to the soldiers. American troops were woken up by drum and fife, playing about 5 minutes of music, including the well known Three Camps.[8] Troops were also called for meals by certain drum pieces such as "Peas on a Trencher," or "Roast Beef." A piece called the "Tattoo" was used to signal that all soldiers should be in their tent, and "Fatigue Call" was used to police the quarters or drum unruly women out of the camp.[9]

Many of these military pieces required a thorough grounding in rudiment drumming; indeed Moeller states that: "They [the rudimental drummers] were the only ones who could do it [play the military camp duty pieces]".[10] Moeller furthermore states that "No matter how well a drummer can read, if he does not know the rudimental system of drumming, it is impossible for him to play 'The Three Camps,' 'Breakfast Call,' or in fact any of the Duty except the simple beats such as 'The Troop.'"[11]

During the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, the military First Call to Taps). While most modern military signals use just the bugle, the snare is still retained for some signals, e.g. the Adjutant's Call.

Snare heads originally were of calf skin. The invention of the plastic (mylar) drum head is credited to Marion "Chick" Evans,[12] who (apparently) made the first plastic drum head in 1956.

The development of drum rudiments seem to have developed with the snare drum; the Swiss fife and drum groups are sometimes credited with their invention.[13] The first written rudiment was in Basel, Switzerland in 1610.[14] Rudiments with familiar names are listed in Charles Ashworth's book in 1812 such as the (single) paradiddle, flam, drag, ratamacue, the roll (a double stroke roll, also called the "ma-ma da-da" roll), among others.


  • Military, or field drum: a snare drum, 14 to 16 inches in diameter, 9 to 16 inches deep, with a wood or metal shell and the two heads stretched by tensioning screws. It has a snare release lever to activate or deactivate a minimum of 8 metal, gut, or plastic snares. The term came into use in 1837 with the invention of the tensioning-screw mechanism. It is frequently placed on a stand.[15]
  • Side drum: Common British and Scottish Highland term for a snare drum.[16]
  • Tamburo piccolo: An Italian expression, literally "Little drum" in Italian, and when used in orchestral music means a snare drum.


There are many types of snare drums, including:

  • Marching snare (high tension)
  • Drum kit snare
  • Piccolo snare
  • Maracatu snare (rope-tuned)
  • Tarol

See also


  1. ^ retrieved 9 March 2012
  2. ^ a b Schroedl, Scott (2001). Play Drums Today!, p. 11. Hal Leonard. ISBN 0-634-02185-0.
  3. ^ "Pearl Drums". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  4. ^ "History of the snare drum". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  5. ^ Another short history of the snare drum
  6. ^ "Definition of Tabor". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  7. ^ "Profile of the Snare Drum - Percussions". 2012-04-10. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  8. ^ "Three camps played in a traditional (authentic) rudimentary style". 2008-06-16. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  9. ^ "Schedule of calls the musicians (drummers) made in the camps". 2009-10-27. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  10. ^ Moeller Book, Page 10
  11. ^ Moeller Book, p. 69
  12. ^ "History of Evans drum head". 2006-01-19. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  13. ^ "The development of Drum Rudiments, by W F Ludwig". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  14. ^ "Basler Pfyffersyte - Repertoire vo de Clique 2005". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  15. ^ Beck, p. 62.
  16. ^ Beck, p. 83.


  • Beck, John (1995). Encyclopedia of percussion instruments. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8240-4788-5. Google Books preview. Accessed 8 September 2009.

External links

  • Marching Snare Drum Heads - Description of types of marching snare drum heads.
  • How to Change a Marching Snare Drum Head
  • Field Drums Blog Photos, information, critical commentary and analysis of field drums, focusing on drums of the American Civil War
  • How to Build a Snare Drum DRUM! Magazine shows the step-by-step process of building a snare drum.
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