History of the Snare Drum

By many accounts the history of the snare drum dates back to the Tabor, pronounced "tay-bur" found in Medieval Europe around 1300. It was a doubleheaded drum thaIt became very popular in the 1400s with the fife-and-drum corps of Swiss mercenary foot soldiers for relaying signals.This version of the drum was a very big instrument that was carried over the player's right shoulder, secured by a strap.

This longer "side drum" became better known as a field drum. The drum heads were tensioned by pulling a rope, very much like lacing a shoe. The method was to lace a cord in a W or Y pattern around the shell. Around the same time frame the European version of the snare drum spread to other countries. England had similar drums by the 1500s, although the name tabor was replaced with drome or drume.

In the 1600s, new methods of tensioning the drum were developed. This allowed the snares on field drums to be tightened more securely with screws. The former loose rattle sound of the snare's gut was now more of a tight snap.

The increase in the tension on the drum heads allowed drummers to play faster and more complex rhythms. By the mid 1800s, snare drums were being built from brass and reduced in size for a higher pitched, crisper sound popular in symphony orchestras.

Classical music added the snare drum to provide color, or timbre, for march-like segments of music. In the 19th century it replaced the tenor drum of military bands. The sound of a marching snare is a classic military sound.

After 1900, drum and bugle corps increased the snare drum's popularity. Metal counter-hoops were added to tighten the drumheads more efficiently. The now familiar coiled wire came into use for the snares.

Bringing the history of the snare drum into the modern era was its use in a Trap-Set. Traps were a mixture of drums, percussive insruments and cymbals assembled into a set of drums or drum set. This innovation was used in a variety of ways, including silent movies, jazz and ragtime music.

Rock-&-Roll emphasized a steady backbeat while Jazz use of the snare drum is known as comping, or supporting and interacting with the other musician's in the band. In response to these popular music styles major U.S. drum companies such as Ludwig, Rogers and Slingerland started making many different sizes and types of snare drums. Since the 1950s, improvements such as plastic drumheads and high quality snare throw-off mechanisms have allowed better sound control and great dependability.

Presently the range of snare drums available is staggering with many technical advancements in materials, shell design and hardware. Legendary Ludwig snare drums, along with Gretsch, Yamaha, Tama, DW, Pearl, Premier and Sonor are the most well known drum manufacturers mass producing superb quality snare drums from many different shell materials. Many small custom companies have entered the drum building business with impressive results.

That being said, the modern snare drum still very much like its centuries old ancestors. The history of the snare drum has its roots as an Ottoman and Swiss military instrument. It has become the driving force behind many music styles around the world.

This is a great example of how this simple device evolved into an icon known the world over as the good ol' Snare Drum.

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