Snare Drum or ‘Side drum’

Courtesy of Arthur Ka Wai Jenkins
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This is a drum with two heads! A shallow cylinder has one head stretched across one end (the ‘batter’ head) and another head stretched across the other end (the ‘snare’ head). The snare head has snares touching it. These are strands of wire, gut or silk that vibrate when you strike the drum.

Sticks or brushes used to play the snare drum, courtesy of iStock

Sticks or brushes used to play the snare drum

Snare drums have been around for hundreds of years, in war and in music.

The snare drum is also called a ‘side drum’ because in military bands it’s slung across the player’s shoulder like a satchel and carried to the side.

To play it

You use two wooden sticks or wire brushes to strike it.

You need a lot of skill to play the snare drum properly. The agility of the hands and fingers is essential for a clean, crisp result.

A player of the snare drum, courtesy of Tony Morrell

A player of the snare drum

The sound

It makes a dry, rattling sound. It can help to build excitement (as it does in Ravel’s famous Boléro) and it’s also good at getting people’s attention. Drum rolls are very effective.

The snare drum has certain rhythmic patterns that it’s really good at. One of them is called ‘paradiddle’: four quick little beats, just like when you say the word ‘paradiddle’.

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 What is the other name for the snare drum?

a. Top drum
b. Bottom drum
c. Side drum

 Which of these sounds good on a snare drum?

a. Roll
b. Chord
c. Tune

 Which of these is the name of a rhythmic pattern on the snare drum?

a. Tiddlepiddle
b. Paradiddle
c. Megatwaddle

 A snare drum has two what?

a. Eyes
b. Heads
c. Arms

 Which best describes the sound of the snare drum?

a. Dry
b. Sweet
c. Smooth

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Selected Snare Drum Extracts

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
Boléro (extract)

The snare drum repeats one rhythmic pattern 165 times in a row!

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Kenneth Jean

Taken from Naxos 8.550173

John Philip Sousa (1854–1932)
Semper Fidelis (‘Always Faithful’) (extract)

The snare drum in its military role as side drum in a march. Stand to attention!

Performers: Royal Artillery Band; Keith Brion

Taken from Naxos 8.559092