Snare drums are an iconic percussion instrument that is central to most songs that include a drum track, regardless of the genre that song belongs to. Most studio drum kits would have a couple of snare drums that are tuned differently but never out of tune. But what if one of them is out of tune? What are you going to do? Do you know how to tune a snare drum?
Professional drummers own more than one snare drum, and they often tune each piece different from the next as some songs require a different snare tune. While the act of tuning a snare drum is easy, in paper, having to do the tuning before and right after a specific song is time-consuming. It can also be a bother for roadies and technicians as well.
What Is a Snare Drum?
In music theory, a snare drum is an instrument that can produce a sharp staccato sound when its head is hit with a drumstick. The force and the angle to which the head is hit dictates the tone that the snare drum produces.
Snare drums are the central piece to a drum kit, and it often dictates the rhythm of the song, as well as how the drummer would hit the other parts of the drum kit. Drumsticks are the main implements to which to strike the snare head with, but other implements like brushes, rutes, and even your hands can be used to strike the snare and get the specific tone that you want.
What Are the Parts of a Snare Drum?
The surface of the snare drum which drummers hit is called the head, and its opposite side is called the snare-side head. Coated-batter heads are often used as materials for modern snare drums.
Shells give snare drums its round appearance, and they generally have an impact on the sound that the snare produces. The material used for the shell plays into the sound quality as well.
This device holds the snares against the snare-side of the drum head and provides you, the drummer, a way to adjust the tensioning of the wire.
- Rims or Hoops
Hoops or rims are what you can see around the snare head, and it keeps everything together. Rims also house the other snare parts that dictate the tone of the whole instrument.
- Lugs and Tension Rods
These two act as the tensioning system of the drum head, and they ensure that less metal touches the shell, which affects the quality of the sound that the snare produces. They are found on the sides of the shell and are adjusted using a drum key.
- Snare Wires
These fragile strands of wire give snare drums their distinct sound when the head is struck. Different kinds of wires are often used to create different sounds.
The most popular mounting option is the traditional three-legged stand while a few sport options for attaching a sling and carrying the sling like the little drummer boy of yore.
How Does Snare Drums Work?
A sound is produced when the membrane of the drum head is struck using a hand, a brush or a stick. This act pushes down the head which causes it to vibrate and spreads the transferred energy until it is fully dissipated through sound waves.
The snare wires react to this force by altering the sound depending on the strength of the force and the amount of tension that the snare wires are in. The sound then changes when you change the amount of force you applied using the drumsticks.
Some professional drummers alter the way they hit the snares to produce another set of sound while another technique also calls for hitting one of the drumsticks as it rests over the drum head. Still, another method is hitting the rims or hoops to produce a flat beat instead of the staccato, and it sometimes works in conjunction with the hitting the head directly.
What Are the Types of Snare Drums?
Concert snares often have wooden shells and metal cable snares. This kind of snare drum is also employed using a good-sized amount of muffling as well as orchestral bands to focus on the bass and the other instrument sections.
- Drumset Snare
This kind of snare is often found in rock and roll drum kits and employed snappy coiled snare wires. The shell is often made of fiberglass although there are some that are made of metal or single plywood.
- Marching Snare
This snare drum often has a high-tension and produces a deeper sound than normal snare drums. The heads of marching snares are commonly made of Kevlar and are designed with temperature and humidity in mind as they are often used in the field.
This snare drums is shallower than the other types and are used mostly as a snare variant for drum kits. They produce a high-pitch sound and less thump which is perfect for some music genres.
How to Tune a Snare Drum?
A snare drum loses its tone when the membranes have become stretched and expands which can result in an uneven sound. This is why knowing how to tune a snare is important, especially if you are an up and coming drummer. Since a snare drum has two sides to it, it is also logical that it comes with two different set of instructions for tuning the top and the bottom heads of a snare drum.
Tuning the Batter Head
Step 1: Tuning a drum requires that you loosen all the rods and start from scratch, this ensures that the tension is evenly spread out.
Step 2: Lightly press the membrane downwards into the shell.
Step 3: Tighten each tension rod until you can’t turn them by hand anymore.
Step 4: Get your drum key and tighten each rod by at least half a turn.
Step 5: Test the tuning by hitting the drum about an inch from the tension rod inwards.
Step 6: Tighten the rods as needed, but you should be able to play the snare as normal with the tuning that you’re used to.
Tuning the Snare Head
Step 1: To check if this head is out of tune, press your thumbs on the edges of the snare head. It should be soft but not too soft; you can compare it to the softness of medium rare steak or the fleshy part of your palm.
Step 2: If you feel that it is too soft or if it gives too easily, then you would need to tune it.
Step 3: First things first, unlock the snare wires.
Step 4: Using a drum key, tighten the tension rods by at least half a turn until it feels just about right. Make sure to tighten the rod opposite the one you’re working on next while you tighten around the drum. This ensures that the tension is well-balanced.
Step 5: Lock the snare wires back into place and test the snare head again.
Final Words: Experiment and Bang Away
Snare drums can be used in a multitude of ways. They are, of course, an auto-include for rock and roll drum kits as well as marching bands and orchestras. They play a central part in each of these sets and knowing how to tune a snare drum gives you some street cred especially if you are still new to the group.