The Percussion Family

The Snare Drum

Drumroll, please! Well before it became an essential part of rock music, and even before integrating into classical music, the snare drum was used to accompany military exercises. It is therefore not uncommon for its sound to be associated with a military march. Its unique sound comes from a band of taut metal cords, called the snare, which extends across the bottom of the drum, called the snare head, making a rattling sound when the player strikes the drum head. It takes much control to play.

Alexandre Lavoie, Principal Percussion of the Orchestre Métropolitain

Did you know?

The metallic, beaded strings which extend across the bottom of the drum tend to vibrate “sympathetically” when other orchestral musicians play, which causes an unwanted white noise. It is for this reason that snare drums have a switch which allows the player to activate and deactivate the snare when necessary.

Musical excerpts

In these three excerpts, the snare drum, with its regular beating pattern in a march tempo, adds a military flair to the music. We can clearly hear the drum roll at the beginning of the second excerpt, from Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. In the third excerpt, inspired by the skirmishes of January 9, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Shostakovich uses numerous percussion instruments to represent the harshness of the battle, particularly with the distinctive hits of the tam-tam.

Carl Nielsen

Symphony No. 5: I. Tempo giusto - Adagio non troppo

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Symphonic Dances: III. Lento assai ― Allegro vivace

Dmitri Shostakovich

Symphony No. 11: II. Allegro: The 9th of January