Snare drum
The snare drum or side drum is a melodic percussion instrument with strands of snares made of curled metal wire, metal cable, plastic cable, or gut
Catgut is a type of cord that is prepared from the natural fibre found in the walls of animal intestines. Usually sheep or goat intestines are used, but it is occasionally made from the intestines of cattle, hogs, horses, mules, or donkeys.-Etymology:...

 cords stretched across the drumhead, typically the bottom. Pipe and tabor
Pipe and Tabor
Pipe and tabor is a pair of instruments played by a single player, consisting of a three-hole pipe played with one hand, and a small drum played with the other...

 and some military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 snare drums often have a second set of snares on the bottom (internal) side of the top (batter) head to make a "brighter" sound. Different types can be found, like Piccolo snares, that have a smaller depth for a higher pitch, rope-tuned snares (Maracatoo snare) and the Brazilian "Tarol", that commonly has snares on the top of the upper drumhead. The snare drum is considered one of the most important drums of the drum kit
Drum kit
A drum kit is a collection of drums, cymbals and often other percussion instruments, such as cowbells, wood blocks, triangles, chimes, or tambourines, arranged for convenient playing by a single person ....


Historically, snare drums have been used in military and parading contexts to produce drum cadence
Drum cadence
In music, a drum cadence is a work played exclusively by the percussion section of a modern marching band , descended from early military marches, primarily as a purposefully emphasized means of providing a beat to marchers and often using patterned rhythmic drum strokes to produce a drum beat.A...

s. Today in popular music
Popular music
Popular music belongs to any of a number of musical genres "having wide appeal" and is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional music, which are typically disseminated academically or orally to smaller, local...

, especially with rock drum kits, the snare drum is typically used to play a backbeat pattern such as quarter notes on the backbeat or:


The drum can be played by striking it with a drum stick
Drum stick
A percussion mallet is an object used to beat drums and other percussion instruments. Some specialized mallets are called beaters, drumsticks.Note: See Rute .-Drum sticks:...

 or any other form of beater, including brushes and rute
Rute (music)
The rute is a beater for drums. Commercially-made rutes are usually made of a bundle of thin birch dowels or thin canes attached to a drumstick handle. These often have a movable band to adjust how tightly the dowels are bound toward the tip. A rute may also be made of a bundle of twigs attached...

s, which produce a softer-sounding vibration from the wires. When using a stick, the drummer may strike either the head of the drum, the rim, or the shell. When the top head is struck the snares vibrate against the bottom head producing a cracking sound. The snares can often be thrown off with a lever on the strainer so that the drum only produces a sound reminiscent of a tom-tom. Rim shots are a technique associated with snare drums in which the head and rim are struck simultaneously with one stick (or in concert playing, a stick placed on the head and rim struck by the opposite stick), and rudiments are sets of basic patterns often played on a snare drum.

In contemporary and/or pop and rock music, where the snare drum is used as a apart of a drum set, most of the backbeats and accented notes on the snare drum are played as rim shots, due to the ever increasing demand for the typical sharp and high volume sound. The so called "ghost notes" are very light "filler notes" played in between the backbeats in genres like funk and rhythm and blues. The famous drum roll
Drum roll
A drum roll is a technique the percussionist employs to produce a sustained sound on a percussion instrument. Rolls are used by composers to sustain the sound and create other effects, the most common of which is using a roll to build anticipation.- Snare drum roll :The most common snare drum roll...

 is produced by alternatively pressing the sticks on the drum head striving for a controlled rebound. A similar effect can be obtained by playing alternated double stroke
Drum stroke
In music, a drum stroke is a note performed on percussion instruments known as a drum. There are four basic strokes.The Full Stroke begins with the tip of the drumstick held 8-12" above the striking surface...

s on the drum, creating a double stroke roll, or very fast single strokes, creating a single stroke roll. The snares are a fundamental ingredient to the drum roll as they help blend together distinct strokes that are therefore perceived as a single sustained sound.


Snare drums may be made from various wood, metal, or acrylic
Acrylic glass
Poly is a transparent thermoplastic, often used as a light or shatter-resistant alternative to glass. It is sometimes called acrylic glass. Chemically, it is the synthetic polymer of methyl methacrylate...

 materials. A typical diameter for snare drums is 14 inches (35.6 cm). Marching snare drums
Marching percussion
Marching percussion instruments are specially designed to be played while moving. This is achieved by attaching the drum to a special harness worn by the drummer. The drums are designed and tuned for maximum articulation and projection of sound, as marching activities are almost always outdoors or...

 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 (15.2 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 (20.3 cm) and are often used for higher-pitched special effects.

Most snare drums are constructed in plies that are heat-
Molding (process)
Molding or moulding is the process of manufacturing by shaping pliable raw material using a rigid frame or model called a pattern....

 and compression-moulded
Compression molding
Compression molding is a method of molding in which the molding material, generally preheated, is first placed in an open, heated mold cavity. The mold is closed with a top force or plug member, pressure is applied to force the material into contact with all mold areas, while heat and pressure are...

 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 snare drum seems to have descended from a medieval drum called the Tabor
Tabor (instrument)
Tabor, or tabret, refers to a portable snare drum played with one hand. The word "tabor" is simply an English variant of a Latin-derived word meaning "drum" - cf. tambour , tamburo...

, 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
Pipe and Tabor
Pipe and tabor is a pair of instruments played by a single player, consisting of a three-hole pipe played with one hand, and a small drum played with the other...

). Tabors were not always double headed 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, due to influence from the Ottoman Turk's use of the drum in their armies. 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. In 2006 a patent was filed for the first snare drum shell made from 100% crystal and in 2009 the subsequent patent was filed for the HMS mounting system needed to hold the crystal. This innovation is designed to keep the resonance at its maximum. Both patents were filed by the Nolan Page Drum Co. Today the snare drum is used in pop music and modern orchestral music.
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
Sanford A. Moeller
Sanford Augustus "Gus" Moeller was an American rudimental drummer, a national champion, educator, and author. Moeller was born in Albany, New York, and began his music education by studying the piano....

 (of the "Moeller Method" of drumming) states that "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. 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 "The Fatigue" was used to police the quarters or drum unruly women out of the camp.

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]". 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 THE THREE CAMPS, BREAKFAST CALL, or in fact any of the Duty except the simple beats such as THE TROOP".

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

The development of drum rudiment
In percussion music, a rudiment is one of the basic patterns used in rudimental drumming. These patterns of drum strokes can be combined in many ways to create music.- History :...

s seem to have developed with the snare drum; the Swiss fife and drum groups are sometimes credited with their invention. The first written rudiment was in Basel, Switzerland in 1610. 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 (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.
  • Side drum: Common British and Scottish Highland term for a snare drum.


There are lots of types of snare drums, including:
  • Marching Snare (High Tension)
  • Drum kit snare
  • Piccolo snare
  • Maracaoo snare (rope-tuned)
  • Tarol


  • Beck, John (1995). Encyclopedia of percussion instruments. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0824047885. Google Books preview. Accessed 8 September 2009.

External links

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