If you are a drummer, you already know what it means, if instead you intend to buy a drum and are trying to find out what a snare drum is then I try to give you a concise explanation: when a person badly imitates, with the voice, the sound of drums, 90% of the time it makes a very clear “tutu-pah”, right? Here, that “pah” is the sound of the snare drum in the lo-fi version. Choose the best snare wires.


The snare drum is a drum, a fundamental part of the complete kits of acoustic drums, but also played alone in bands and orchestras. It is part of the membranophonic instruments, in which the sound is produced by the percussion of a stretched membrane. It is composed of a shaft, usually in wood or metal, and two skins, hinged leather above and resonating leather below, tensioned by two metal circles sprinkled with tie rods (metal blocks).

The main feature and point of distinction of the other drums is the so-called tailpiece, a series of metal threads stretched on the resonant skin which, with each strike on the beating skin, vibrate and produce that characteristic “slap” sound, that “PAH” that stands out from other drums and has marked the history of drums.


For thousands of years man has been beating things with sticks to cause noises and sounds of all kinds, but it is only about 100 years that the first battery was born. The origin of the snare drum , however, is more uncertain and complicated , but certainly older.

We have to go back at least a millennium, to Africa, where drums were used which, thanks to the help of small strips of dried gut spread on the beating skin, produced the typical humming sound. To find the true ancestor of the snare drum we have to move a few centuries forward, to the appearance of the “tabor”, during the Middle Ages. This is a double membrane single-handed instrument, whose beating skin was always covered with dry gut strands as a tailpiece.

From there the snare drum has evolved and changed radically over the years, creating a real metal tailpiece and moving it onto the resonant skin, whose tension can be changed with the aid of a tool, called a machine in jargon, placed on the side of the barrel.


The snare drum is at the center of the set, playing the role of prince of the drums. Being an essential element of the whole set you will use it often and, in many cases, you will mistreat it by filling it with “barrel”. Sooner or later it will have to be changed and, most likely, you will try to make a qualitative leap; it is physiological. So how do you choose your next (or your first) snare drum?

The Stem

The shell is the most important element of the snare drum , it represents the body of the drum and determines a large part of the sound. There are several elements to consider and some combinations of these can decide for yourself the choice of your next drum snare.

  • Shell diameter: the wider the shell, the more it will produce a deep note.
  • Shell Depth: Shell depth determines the body of the sound, not the note.
  • Shell thickness: the thicker the wood, the more the frequency rises, increasing the note produced.
  • Wood density: softer wood will respond and stimulate lower frequencies, harder wood will work better on high frequencies.
  • Shell wood: there are many woods and can radically change the final sound of the snare drum. The density rule generally applies with some exceptions; some woods have a warmer sound and others work well in the low frequencies despite their hardness. To summarize we can mention the most common woods:
    • Maple: the most common, medium density and tending to high frequencies.
    • Bubinga: African wood that enhances the low frequencies despite its hardness.
    • Birch: medium density and with very low frequencies.
    • Poplar: similar to maple but lighter and emphasizes the low frequencies.
    • Oak: hard and tending to high frequencies.
    • Mahogany: produces a very precise note that decays quickly, tends to the low frequencies with a full-bodied sound.
    • Cherry: Produces a warm, woody sound, similar to maple in sound and workability.
    • Walnut: hard wood, tending to high frequencies.

The Skins

Changing the skin of your snare drum can significantly change the sound produced. A correct head can enhance the characteristics of the snare drum, on the contrary, a wrong or worn head can negatively affect the sound quality.

  • Single-layer leathers: the most common are composed of a single thin layer of plastic of variable thickness, which is commonly around 0.2 mm. The resulting sound is usually more open and brilliant, the resonant skin is generally thinner. This skin type is mostly used in genres such as jazz where the decay of the harmonics can generally be appreciated more slowly .
  • Double layer skins: Composed of two layers of plastic , a double layer skin is usually used for the batting skin. The attack is less open and more defined, in fact, in genres such as punk, rock, metal and even pop, they are widely used precisely for their characteristic precision and resistance.
  • Sandblasted: the sandblasted skins are covered with a grainy paint that contains the sound, blocking part of the range of frequencies released. In addition, they are perfect for playing with brushes. This is the type of skin most used on snare drums.

The resonant skin is usually a fairly high tuned transparent monolayer skin. This is because thicker, looser skin would vibrate for too long, creating unwanted frequencies.

Lauren Richard

Dr. Patterson's research interests include ethnobiology, community-based conservation, biocultural diversity, and sustainable development. He has worked extensively with the Maijuna and other indigenous groups of the Peruvian Amazon. Dr. Patterson helped the Maijuna establish an indigenous federation in 2004 and has worked with them on community-based biocultural conservation projects since 1999.


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