The snare drum is arguably one of the greatest percussion instruments to be invented, and it has a deep and long history, especially since the 10th century. The snare drum also referred to as the side drum in military bands, is a percussion instrument known for its classic sharp staccato sound. Producing the sound happens – same from the very first drum to the modern snare drum – when you strike the drum head with a drum stick.
So why was the snare drum invented? In this article, we highlight some of the rich histories of the snare showing why it was invented and how it became the snare drum we all know and love today. To understand the reason behind the invention of the snare, we have to take a deep dive into history to know its initial purpose.
This sound made by the snare drum is caused by the series of wires held under tension at the bottom drumhead of the instrument. Which gained early acceptance into most percussion lines like in the marching snare band in the military or the orchestra. Despite its popularity and how it looks today, the snare drum has historically been in use for a long time. It has also survived in different forms, dating all the way back to the medieval times of the 10th century.
The history of the snare drum can be easily traced back in the medieval times to the year 1300 when its early version the Tabor existed. Well steeped in American and European culture, average soldiers had their daily routine and lives using drums ordered (1, 2, 3).
It the daily lives of the average soldiers, providing cadences for marching and signals for battle, as well as marking routine activities such as meal and bed time. The drum most associated with the military was a snare drum.
The Tabor was used by the fife and drum corps. The Tabor was a double-headed large percussion instrument that the user tends to wear over the right shoulder using a strap.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Tabor was used by the swiss mercenary foot soldiers to send higher pitched signals to one another while out on the battlefield, that was the main reason the Tabor was invented in the first place to be used to convey message especially in the military. During the time the swiss were using it, they modified the instrument and made it longer, and they changed the orientation of carrying the instrument by wearing it alongside the body as a side drum or a field drum instead of wearing over the right shoulder.
The Tabor was snare drum-like and was tensioned around the shell with leather straps, sometimes ropes were used. By the 15th century, the Tabor was a popular instrument in different countries and was used for different purposes – for marching purposes, for war purposes, for the dissemination of information purposes and a lot more.
In England, a version of the Tabor known as the drume or drone was made. It subsequently underwent some changes in appearance.
In the 16th to 18th centuries, there was a little change in the tensioning method used. Due to the improvement of technology, there were new manufacturing ways used to create snare drums and adjust its tension, there was the addition of screws which allowed the snare drum to be positioned securely and tensioned more firmly. This helped create a clearer sound from the snare, replacing the old loose sound of the Tabor.
By the turn of the 1800s, there was so much improvement on the snare that drummers were able to create complex sounds and brilliant rhythmic patterns. By this time, the snare drum was gaining more ground in classical music as it was used to produce march-like timbre.
Down to the close of the 19th century, the snare underwent a size reduction and was manufactured with a more durable and better sound-producing material brass, this increased the pitch of the snare drum sound and also made the sound crisper, due to this it was heavily used for orchestras.
During this same period, the snare drum was used for a lot of different military activities, one of its use was in the production of various military songs using the fife and the snare drum. It became an integral part of the military culture at that time and was also used to disseminate information.
For example, the American military troop was woken from their sleep by 5 minutes of songs played on the snare and fife like the ‘roast beef, breakfast call, peas on the trench, which are used to call soldiers for meals.
Other tones are used to signal bedtime, like the ‘Fatigue call‘ and ‘Tatto.’
There was a lot of military use of the new snare drum, it replaced the Tabor. Apart from its use in the military camps, it was also used in the war field on some occasion, with its beats used to send signals, it was used the same way the Tabor was used in the medieval times.
The 20th Century
In the 20th century, the snare drum underwent some drastic improvement in its design and aesthetics. A lot of new features were added like the metal countertop, there was also better tensioning.
All this made the snare drum, what it is today. It is an integral part of any percussion drum kit set up.
In its modern music introduction, it was first used by the jazz music, then followed by the rock and roll music, which made the snare well known for its rhythmic backbeat and its comping power. Due to its success in the modern music spotlight, companies like Ludwig and Rogers design various types of the snare drum in different sizes and improve the overall sound of the drum.
With the invention of the plastic drum heads, the snare drum sound was greatly improved. Its shell design and its other hardware also continue to improve with the development of modern music.
The snare has evolved through the ages was produced initially to send military signals, then used as a musical instrument, it gained ground in military tunes, then classical music than to jazz, rock and roll, and the entire modern music genre now. Today there is a wide variety of snare drum produced by different snare drum companies improving and producing the snare in large scale manufacturing.
Right now, we can find the snare sound in almost every music in our modern-day music culture.
Although, its use might have shifted from its initial purpose. It is still used to send melodic signals to our brains, and it disseminates the beautiful melody of music.