Snare Drum

person playing the snare drum

Drums evoke a primal response in listeners, arguably representing the earliest form of music played by ancient man around campfires and in deep caverns. Among all drums, the raspy snare stands out for its unique features that allow both novices and newbies to showcase their talent. Learn more about this central instrument’s history and composition.

The Snare Drum from Tension Lugs to Drumhead

The snare drum resembles a hat case or round keepsake box you might find in your grandmother’s attic. Each part can be adjusted to alter the sound produced. Learning the different parts helps new players perform with technical precision.

Looking at the drum from the top, you first see the batter head, which is the surface you hit with sticks, mallets, brushes and other striking tools. The metal rim, or counter hoop, is sometimes struck for a deeper sound, called a rimshot. This short video explains the rudiments of how to hold the stick, where to strike the drum heads and various strokes that a beginner must master.

The top and bottom rims hold the drumheads in place against the cylindrical shell, and the depth of the shell is made of wood, metal or plastic. Tension rods connect the top and bottom rims and are used to tune the drum with a drum key.

The snare head is on the bottom of the drum and eight to 18 snares of nylon, metal or plastic extend across the snare head, giving the drum its characteristic terse, rattling sounds. The earliest forms used animal intestines to make the snares, which were called catgut.

Besides holding the drum together, the tension rods or lugs also impact the sound quality. Most snare drums use split lugs or lugs in tubes. Tube lugs minimize direct contact with the shell, allowing a longer sustain on each stroke.

Snare beds are held by a lever the player can release to move the snares away from the snare head. This can be used to get a deeper sound like a tom-tom drum. Snare beds hold the wires flat against the snare head. Without the snare beds, the sound would be buzzy and uncontrolled.

Modern snares sit in a stand that has three prongs to hold the drum in place atop a tripod base. In classical and big band music performed by symphonies, orchestras and high school bands, the snare is sometimes played alone.

Where the Snare Came From?

The first drum related to the snare was the tabor of Medieval Europe circa 1300. The tabor was a double-headed drum with a single snare.

By the 1500s, the English developed the snare into the larger field drum used in military campaigns. Then, the snare drum was altered for classical music performances and eventually became part of the drum kit, sealing its popularity into modern times.

Best Snare Drum Groups and Players

Rolling Stone magazine lists Led Zeppelin’s Jon Bonham and The Who’s Keith Moon as drummers who had the greatest impact on their genre — Moon was the inspiration behind Animal on the Muppet Show.

Virtuoso performers can be found in elite college marching bands, such as Purdue University’s All American Marching Band, which historically rank among the top drumlines in the nation.

The snare has inspired songs as diverse as the Fall Out Boys rap song Rat a Tat to the Christmas favorite The Little Drummer Boy. Drumbeats were first inspired by the beating human heart and still have the universal power to stir our blood: