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When looking at percussion instruments, the parts of a snare drum include the shell, drum heads, rims or hoops, lugs, tension rods, snares, snare guard and the strainer mechanism. The interconnected nature of the parts of a snare drum mean that getting just the right sound and response from the drum requires looking at everything on the instrument, not just a single part. Many professional drummers who understand the qualities of each snare drum part mix and match different styles and materials to create the sound they prefer.
The main component of the snare drum is the shell. Shells come in two major types: wood and metal. Wood ones are either carved out of large logs to provide a seamless circle of wood, or they are carefully shaped over a frame. These shells provide a very warm, natural sound because of the uneven surface, thickness and density of the wood, which is good for eliminating upper overtones and bleeding during recording. Metal shells normally are made of stainless steel, brass or aluminum, providing a little better projection because of the thinness and smooth surface of the metal.
Parts of a snare drum also include two drum heads. These fit on the top and bottom of the shell. The one on top is called the batter head because it is the one the player strikes while performing, and the one on the bottom is called the snare head because of its proximity and relationship to the snares. Normally the batter head is thicker than the snare head, simply because it takes more abuse and has to stand up to being struck. Heads can be either animal skin — calfskin most commonly — or plastic, with the most popular plastic options being Mylar® and Kevlar®.
Next come the rims or hoops, which may be flanged, die-cast or wood. Flanged hoops are pieces of metal that are molded into a circular shape, while die-cast ones are metal poured directly into a mold to create a solid hoop. Wood rims are made similarly to wood shells. Players sometimes hit their sticks directly on the rims to provide a "rim shot," which is a very loud popping or cracking sound. This, along with the fact the rims help hold the drum heads in place, means that durability of the rims is essential.
The lugs and tension rods are two other major parts of a snare drum. These work together to provide tension for the drum head. Tension rods fit through holes in the rims and screw into the lugs, which are placed directly onto the snare drum shell. By tightening or loosening the tension rods, players can adjust the pitch of the drum and, to a degree, the amount of "give" the drum head has.
Although all the parts of a snare drum contribute to the sound of the instrument, the drum's characteristic buzzy sound is created through the snares. These are strings of gut, cable or wire that stretch over and vibrate against the snare drum head as the player performs. The different types of snares have different physical properties that affect how the snares vibrate, which impacts how "dark" or "bright" the snares sound. None of the snares is any better than another overall, but certain types of music may require the specific sound from one of the three snare types. Most snare drums have a snare guard to protect the snares during use, storage and transport.
Lastly, snare drums have a strainer mechanism, as well. This part of the drum controls the snares and contains both a lever and knob. Players use the knob to make small adjustments to the snare tension, while the lever is used to "throw off" the snares completely so they no longer touch the snare head, making the drum sound more like a tom drum.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main components of a snare drum?
The main components of a snare drum include the shell, which is the body of the drum; the drumhead, which is the surface struck to produce sound; the hoops, which help maintain the tension of the drumhead; the tension rods, which adjust the tightness of the drumhead; the snare wires, which are metal wires stretched across the bottom head to create the drum's characteristic 'snap'; and the throw-off and butt plate, which allow the snare wires to be engaged or disengaged.
How does the shell material affect the sound of a snare drum?
The material of the snare drum shell significantly influences its sound. Wood shells, such as maple or birch, typically produce a warm, resonant tone with good projection. Metal shells, like steel or brass, offer a brighter, more cutting sound with increased volume and sensitivity. Acrylic shells provide a visually striking option with a focused, punchy sound. The choice of shell material allows drummers to tailor their snare sound to their musical needs and preferences.
What is the purpose of the snare wires on a snare drum?
The snare wires are essential for the distinctive sound of a snare drum. When the drumhead is struck, the snare wires vibrate against the bottom head, creating a sharp, crisp sound that cuts through other instruments. This 'snare' effect can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the wires, allowing drummers to achieve a range of sounds from a tight, precise snap to a loose, buzzy rattle, depending on the musical context.
Can the tension of a snare drum be adjusted, and how does it affect the sound?
Yes, the tension of a snare drum can be adjusted using the tension rods that connect the hoop to the shell. Tightening these rods increases the pitch and produces a crisper, more focused sound, while loosening them lowers the pitch and results in a deeper, more resonant tone. Drummers often fine-tune the tension to suit the music they're playing, the acoustics of the performance space, and their personal playing style.
How do I choose the right snare drum for my playing style?
Choosing the right snare drum involves considering several factors, such as the genre of music you play, the acoustic environment, and your personal preference for sound. For rock or pop, a metal snare might be preferred for its loud, cutting sound. Jazz drummers often favor wood snares for their warmer tones. Additionally, the size of the drum affects its pitch and volume, with larger drums generally producing lower, louder sounds. Experimenting with different materials and sizes at a music store or consulting with more experienced drummers can help you find the perfect snare for your style.