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What are Snare Drums?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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Snare drums are a type of drum that makes a distinct cracking sound when hit with a drumstick. They are also the type of drum on which the drum roll was perfected. These drums owe their sound to snares, which are plastic, gut, or metal cords or wires that extend across the bottom of the drum.

The top of the drum, called the head, is made of tightly stretched leather, or sometimes synthetic materials. Often, snare drums can be tightened to alter their sound. The frame of the drum is now most frequently made with metal. Earlier drums would likely have been made mostly from wood.

This style of drum emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe where it formed an intricate part of military bands. Pipe and drum bands were quite popular and predate military bands with a wide variety of instruments. Since their inception, snare drums can be heard in virtually all types of European and North American music.

Commonly, drumsticks are used to produce music from the snare. It is not uncommon however to see brushes used to produce a softer stroked sound. Some snare drums are specifically adapted for marching bands. In fact modern marching bands, may frequently feature snare solos. Not only the head of the drum, but the sides of the drum, the rim, and the sticks themselves may be part of producing complicated, performance-based rhythms.

Mastering the snare drum is only one portion of being a drummer for most jazz, country and western, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll bands. A drum set generally features at minimum, one snare, two toms, a base drum and a high hat or symbol. This combination is best at producing a wide variety of sounds.

When children learn how to play snare drums, generally the drum roll is the most difficult thing to master in the onset. This is because most tend to try to force the roll. However, if one hits the drum loosely, the stick will bounce. Learning how to “let the roll happen” is an important lesson in early teaching of percussion methods.

Snare drums vary in size. Beginning drummers often start with a practice pad. As they progress to greater proficiency, they may invest in a drum. Generally diameter is between 13 and 14 inches (33.02-35.56cm). Depth of the drum, as measured from top to bottom head can be quite varied, from about 5.5 to 8 inches (13.97-20.32cm).

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By lionbuild — On Apr 06, 2011

Drum-rolling is very hard to master, as the article says; most people end up "flamming" after a certain amount of time because of one wrist being a little stronger than the other.

At least, that is my theory. Anyone else like to clarify?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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