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A Snapshot History of the Modern Snare Drum

history of snare drums

No percussion line is complete without a snare.

The snare drum is known for its classic sharp staccato, which is unmistakable in any modern marching band or orchestra.

However, despite its present popularity, the snare drum has actually been around for hundreds of years—even dating back to medieval times.

Below we’ve outlined some of the history of this ancient instrument and how it became the modern staple it is today.

Medieval Origins

Based on historical records, the snare drum has roots all the way back in medieval times, around the 1300—when its ancestor, the Tabor was used by the fife and drum corps.

The tabor (pronounced “tay-bor”), was a double-headed large instrument that was worn over the right shoulder using a strap.

Around the 1500s and 1600s, Swiss mercenary foot soldiers used the Tabor to send signals to each other while out on the field. During this time, the instrument also became longer, and was worn alongside the body as a “field drum” or “side drum”.

The Tabor was primarily tensioned using leather straps or ropes laced in W and V patterns around the shell. By the 1500s, the European Tabor had traveled to other countries and became a popular instrument for various uses.

In England, a similar instrument was developed by the 1500s, however, the name was changed from Tabor to drume or drome.

1600s - 1800s: A New Age for the Snare

New Tensioning Methods

By the 1600s, new manufacturing methods made it easier to create snare drums and adjust the tension.

The addition of screws around the 1700s allowed the snare drum to be secured and tensioned more firmly, creating a tighter snap and brighter sound that replaced the loose rattle of the Tabor.

During the 1800s, development techniques continued to improve the tensioning method, enhancing the overall sound quality. By increasing the tension, drummers were able to create more complex sounds and rhythmic patterns. For this reason, classical musicians started to use the snare around the 1800s for the march-like timbre that added a touch of color.

Around the mid-century, snares significantly decreased in size and started being built out of brass. This created the higher pitched and crisper sound that is now popular amongst orchestras.

Military Uses and the Classic Marching Sound

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the snare drum also displayed tremendous military uses. Various songs played by drum and fife have been documented and studied as an integral part of military culture during their era.

American military troops, for example, were woken by about 5 minutes of snare and fife, with well-known songs like “Three Camp”. Other uses included songs like “Peas on a Trench”, “Breakfast Call”, and “Roast Beef”, which were used to call soldiers for meals. Other tunes, included “Tattoo” and “Fatigue Call” which were used to signal bedtime and police the barracks, respectably.

Military bands also started using this instrument in the 19th century, replacing the tenor drum. The distinct timbre of a marching snare still rings as a classic military sound today.

In addition to its uses within the military camps, this drum also made its way out onto the field on multiple occasions. The military bugle, snare, and fife were all used to send signals during the 18th and 19th century, echoing back to the military uses for the Tabor during Medieval times.

1900s – Present: The Modern Snare Drum

After the 1900s, the snare drum underwent some major improvements to its design. For better tensioning, metal counter-hoops were created and added to help tighten the drumheads efficiently. Coiled wires also were added to the design during this time, a now familiar feature of the snare.

In today’s modern area, the snare drum is an integral part of any Trap-set. Traps are made up of percussion instruments, drums, and cymbals, and were first used in ragtime and jazz music, as well as silent movies.

Rock and Roll and Jazz music continued to highlight the instrument for its rhythmic backbeat and comping power.

In response to the instrument’s success in mainstream music, companies like Ludwig and Rogers, which we carry, started creating multiple types and sizes of snare drums.

By the mid-1900’s, little advancements like plastic drumheads and snare throw offs made a big difference for the instrument—creating better sound quality and control.

The shell design and hardware for snares has continued to improve into the modern age, as the instrument marches on as a popular drum for everything from marching bands to garage bands.

Leading Brands March On with the Snare Drum

From jazz to rock and roll, military tunes to classical music, the distinct sound of the snare transcends genres and continues to be a favorite for percussionists around the world.

Today, there are several manufacturers that help carry on the snares legacy, offering the instrument in a variety of materials, shells, styles, and sizes.

At Drum Center, we are proud to partner with some of the leading snare drum manufactures in the world. The legendary Ludwig drums was one of the first companies to specialize in large-scale snare manufacturing and they’re still considered industry leaders today for their high-quality instrument and superior sound. Other great brands include Mapex, Dunnett, Canopus, and more.

Shop from Hundreds of Modern Snare Drums

At Drum Center, we appreciate not only this drum’s rich history but also its modern uses today. We fell in love with the snare drum early on, and we are sure you will as well!

We have over 400 snare drums on hand, giving our customers a huge selection to choose from. Whether you’re joining a marching band or simply looking to add to your musical collection, we can help match you with the right make and model for your needs.

From budget-friendly instruments to high-end collectors’ items, we have a huge selection in store and online that you can browse.