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Snare Drum Construction and its Origins

The snare drum is most often the first instrument that Western percussionists learn. The instrument has many parts. A typical snare drum is 6 1/2 inches deep and 14 inches in diameter. The body, or shell, of the drum is normally made out of wood. There are two heads on the drum. The heads are held to the shell by counter hoops. Those counter hoops are fastened in place by long screws that go into the lugs attached to the shell of the drum.

The snares of the drum are a set of curvy wires that run underneath the drum. The snare drum can be played with the snares on or off. A mechanism on the side of the drum has a lever that brings the snares close to the snare head (snares on) or away from the drum head (snares off).

Snare drum construction can first be traced to the three particularly important civilizations of ancient Egypt, Arabia, and Assyria. Snares were in all likelyhood first put on drums to create extra noise that would frighten enemies. Egypt had versions of both a long drum without snares and a field drum with snares. Commonly, the Egyptian drums were carried with the help of a shoulder strap. The drums usually had parchment heads. If there were snares, the snares were on both heads. Snares at this time were made of catgut. The long drum was struck on both heads with the hands while the early version of the snare drum was struck with sticks (Hartsough & Logozzio, Aug. 1994, p. 48)

The Arabians had drums similar to those of the Egyptians. The names were different and the performance practice generally involved playing them on horseback or camelback. The Assyrians, on the other hand, used shoulder straps and carried their drums like the Egyptians did, but unlike the Egyptians, they struck only one head of the drum (Hartsough & Logozzio, Aug. 1994, p. 48).

Prototypes of the snare drum during the medieval times were the tabor and the side drum. The heads of these drums were held down and tensioned by a rope-tension system. The tensioning looked similar to a zipper with no teeth. A tab could be pulled in a direction either bringing together or separating two ropes (Blades, 1970, p. 206).

In the 1500's the Dutch were the first to make a recognizably modern snare drum. Snares were removed from the top head and more snares wre put on the bottom head. During this time the snare drum rudiments, fundamental playing techniques, started to become standardized. In the late Renaissance period the first written works about percussion technique began to appear.


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Julie D. Moncada

jmoncada@hotmail.com