The Modern Snare Drum

A snare drum is a wood or metal cylinder with two animal skin or synthetic skins stretched across the ends. The are called snare drums because of 7-15 snares that are tensioned against the bottom head of the drum. Good snares are made of animal gut, or a synthetic substitute. Cheap drums have metal or plastic snares. The bottom drum head is called the resonance or snare head, as it provides resonance against the top drum head, which is struck with a drum stick. The bottom head serves to vibrate the snares. The wall of the drum also provides resonance. The drums are 9-15 inches in diameter, and also have a tension clip for the snares. When the clip is released, the snare sounds like a small Tom-tom.

Types of snare drums:

  • Old Marching Snare (Field Drum)- This is that diagonally held snare seen in war reenactments. The heads were of animal skin, and the rim was held on by a rope strung back and forth between eyelets on each rim.
  • New Marching Snare- A modern marching snare drum is similar in concept to other snare drums, but different in execution. Marching snares are known for their crispness and loudness. They are mounted in front of a person, like a table, on a metal shoulder harness that extends down the chest. These snares are amazing. The heads are made of Kevlar, and will put up with multiple pellet shots, and a long range .22 shot. The barrels are hardwood, and the lugs extend from one head to the other on the outside. The sticks used on these drums are also thicker and beefier. The rims are metal. Marching drum sticks last only two or three performances in some cases, due to the over-use of goks.
  • Metal Snare- Metal snares are what is commonly see in a drum set. These have a piercing, loud tone suitable for pop music. The heads are usually synthetic or imitation animal skin.
  • Piccolo Snare- This is a smaller snare that has a higher, more piercing tone. It is aften between 10 and 13 inchs in diameter and around 3 inches deep. The construction is the same as a metal snare. The heads are also tensioned tighter.
  • Wood Snare- They have a clearer, more distinguished tone. They are often used in Blues, Jazz and Classical music settings. They are also softer in both overall timbre and volume.


The modern snare drum derives from the mideveal tabor drum, played with a flute or fife. One person could play both: The drum with one hand, the three-holed flute with the other.

From these 5th century roots, the tabor slowly evolved into the field drum around during the 16th century. From there, lugs were eventually added and replaced the old system of tensioning the rims via rope.

The addition of lugs in the late 18th century allowed drums to be tightened and tuned much more accurately. The further incorporation of African music into western culture influenced the drum to change shape again in the late 19th century, until it became what we know today.

Sources: Numerous online sources, tabor, BrasswindWoodwind catalogue.

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