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The snare drum or side drum is a ubiquitous percussion instrument known for its shallow cylindrical shape and powerful, staccato sound. Snare drums are often used in orchestras, concert bands, marching bands, parades, drumlines, drum corps, and more. It is one of the central pieces in a trap set, a collection of percussion instruments designed to be played by a seated drummer, which is used in many popular genres of music. Snare drums are usually played with drum sticks, although there are other options which create a completely different sound, such as the brush.
The snare drum originates from the tabor, a drum first used to accompany the flute. The tabor evolved into more modern versions, such as the kit snare, marching snare, tarol snare, and piccolo snare. Each type presents a different style of percussion and size. The snare drum that one might see in a concert is usually used in a backbeat style to create rhythm. In marching bands, it can do the same but is used mostly for a front beat.
In comparison with the marching snare, the kit snare is generally smaller in length between the two heads, while the piccolo is the smallest of the three. The snare drum is known for its loud crack when struck with a drum stick or mallet. The depth of the sound varies from snare to snare because of the different techniques and construction qualities of the drum. Some of these qualities are tightness of the head, dimensions, and brand.
The snare drum is constructed of two heads—both usually made of plastic—along with a rattle of metal wires on the bottom head called the snares. The wires can also be placed on the top, as in the tarol snare. The top head is typically called the batter head because that is where the drummer strikes it, while the bottom head is called the snare head because that is where the snares are located. The tension of the drumhead is held constant by tension rods. The ability to tighten these provides an opportunity to alter the sound of the hit. The strainer is a lever that releases and tightens the snare. If the strainer is relaxed, the sound of the snare is more like that of a tom because the snares are not active. The rim is the metal ring around the batter head, which can be used for a variety of things, although it is notably used to sound a piercing rimshot with the drumstick.
The drum can be played by striking it with a drum stick or any other form of beater, including brushes, rute and hands, all of which produce a softer-sounding vibration from the snare wires. When using a stick, the drummer may strike the head of the drum, the rim (counterhoop), or the shell. When the top head is struck, the bottom (resonant) head vibrates in tandem, which in turn stimulates the snares and produces a cracking sound. The snares can be thrown off (disengaged) with a lever on the strainer so that the drum produces a sound reminiscent of a tom-tom.Rimshots are a technique associated with snare drums in which the head and rim are struck simultaneously with one stick (or in orchestral concert playing, a stick placed on the head and the rim struck by the opposite stick). In contemporary and/or pop and rock music, where the snare drum is used as a part of a drum kit, many of the backbeats and accented notes on the snare drum are played as rimshots, due to the ever-increasing demand for their typical sharp and high-volume sound.
A commonly-used alternative way to play the snare drum is known as a cross stick, or otherwise a rim click or rim knock. This is done by holding the tip of the drumstick against the drum head and striking the stick's other end (the butt) against the rim, using the hand to mute the head. This produces a dry high-pitched click, similar to a set of claves, and is especially common in Latin and jazz music. So-called "ghost notes" are very light "filler notes" played in between the backbeats in genres such as funk and rhythm and blues. The iconic drum roll is produced by alternately bouncing the sticks on the drum head, striving for a controlled rebound. A similar effect can be obtained by playing alternating double strokes on the drum, creating a double stroke roll, or very fast single strokes, creating a single stroke roll. The snares are a fundamental ingredient in the pressed (buzz) drum roll, as they help to blend together distinct strokes that are then perceived as a single, sustained sound. The snare drum is the first instrument to learn in preparing to play a full drum kit. Rudiments are sets of basic patterns often played on a snare drum.
Snare drums may be made from various woods, metal, or acrylic materials. A typical diameter for snare drums is 14 in (36 cm). Marching snare drums are deeper in size than snare drums normally used for orchestral or drum kit purposes, often measuring 12 in long. Orchestral and drum kit snare drum shells are about 6 in (15 cm) deep. Piccolo snare drums are even shallower at about 3 in (7.6 cm) deep. Soprano, popcorn, and firecracker snare drums have diameters as small as 8 in (20 cm) and are often used for higher-pitched special effects.
Most snare drums are constructed in plies (layers) 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 often 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 used are a batter head (the playing surface on the top of the drum) and a resonant (bottom) head. The resonant head is usually much thinner than the batter head and is not beaten while playing. Rather than calfskin, most modern drums use plastic (Mylar) skins of around 10 mils thickness, sometimes with multiple plies (usually two) of around 7 mils for the batter head. In addition, tone control rings or dots can be applied, either on the outer or inner surface of the head, 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 to the movement of the batter head as it is played. Pipe band requirements have led to the development of a Kevlar-based head, enabling very high tuning, thus producing a very high-pitched cracking snare sound.
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 little bigger than a medium tom and was first used in war, often played with a fife (pipe); the player would play both the fife and drum (see also Pipe and tabor). Tabors were not always double-headed and not all may have had snares. By the 15th century, the size of the snare drum had 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 from the 15th to 16th centuries. The drum was made deeper and carried along the side of the body. 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 which improved its characteristic sound. Metal snares appeared in the 20th century. Today the snare drum is used in jazz, pop music and modern orchestral music.
Drum - Cadence A
Drum - Cadence B
Drum - Four Flams
Snare drum cadences performed by the United States Navy Band
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Much of the development of the snare drum and its rudiments is closely tied to 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 soldiers. American troops were woken up by drum and fife playing about five minutes of music, for example, the well-known Three Camps. Troops were 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 Call" was used to police the quarters or drum unruly women out of the camp.
Many of these military pieces required a thorough grounding in rudimental 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 Three Camps,' 'Breakfast Call,' or in fact any of the Duty except the simple beats such as 'The Troop'."
During the late 18th and 19th century, the military bugle largely supplanted the snare and fife for signals. Most modern militaries and scouting groups use the bugle alone to make bugle calls that announce scheduled and unscheduled events of the organization (from First Call to Taps). While most modern military signals use only the bugle, the snare is still retained for some signals, for example, the Adjutant's Call.
Drum rudiments 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 drawn up in Basel, Switzerland in 1610. Rudiments with familiar names—such as the single paradiddle, flam, drag, ratamacue, and double stroke roll, also called the "ma-ma da-da" roll—are listed in Charles Ashworth's book in 1812.
- Military drum/field drum: a snare drum with a diameter of 14–16 in and 9–16 in 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 eight 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: a common British and Scottish Highlands term for a snare drum.
- Tamburo piccolo: an Italian term meaning "little drum", which when used in orchestral music means a snare drum.
There are many types of snare drum, for example:
- Marching snare ("regular" and "high tension")
Marching snares are typically 12 in deep and 14 in wide. The larger design allows for a deeper-sounding tone, one that is effective for marching bands. Famous users of this type are The Ohio State University Marching Band and the Texas A&M marching band. Many marching snares are built to withstand high amounts of tension, tightened by a Drum key. They are played with most of the time with a heavier and thicker stick, more commonly referred to as "marching sticks".
- Drum kit snare
Drum kit snares are usually about half the depth of a marching snare. They are typically 14 in wide and 6 in deep, with 8 in depths available.
- Piccolo snare
The piccolo snare is a type of snare used by drummers seeking a higher-pitched sound from their snare. Because the piccolo snare has a smaller diameter than that of the marching snare or set snare, a higher-pitched "pop" is more widely associated with it. Although the piccolo snare has a more distinctive, unique sound, it has some downsides. Because of the "sharper" sound of the piccolo, its sound travels further and is picked up by microphones further away during recording, making it difficult to record effectively. There are many kinds of piccolo snare, including the popcorn, soprano and standard snares. Popcorn snares typically have a diameter of 10 in, sopranos 12–13 in, and standard piccolos 14 in. A well-known user of the piccolo snare is Neil Peart, the drummer of Rush, who has used a 13-inch X Shell Series Piccolo.
The tabor snare dates back to around the 14th century, and was used for marching beats in wars. It is a double-headed drum with a single snare strand, and was often played along with the three-holed pipe flute. The dimensions vary with the different types of tabor. It is typically 4.5 in wide and around 11–13 in in diameter.
The tarol snare has similar dimensions to the kit snare. The major distinction is that the snares in this type are on the top head rather than the bottom one.
- Caixa Malacaheta
Meaning "box". This is a simple 12 or 14inch X 20cm deep snare typical of Samba played in Southern Brasil. Made from aluminum or steel with the snare wires on top, it can be played from a sling or "en cima" - on the shoulder to project the sound.
Popular brands of snare drums
- Brady Drum Company
- Snare drum hardware
- Beck, John (1995). Encyclopedia of percussion instruments. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8240-4788-5. Google Books preview. Accessed 8 September 2009.