The snare drum is the centerpiece of your drum set and can help to shape your individual sound. Having a great snare drum sound is essential for any recording or touring drummer, but it is equally important for beginner and hobbyist drummers. Why? Having an instrument that sounds good, is appealing to the ear, and produces a desirable tone is quite simply more inspiring and enjoyable to play. For friends and family that are going on this journey with you, it's a lot more pleasant on their ears too.
Few things disrupt the peaceful dynamic of the home of a hobbyist drummer more than the aggressive and objectionable tone of a raw, badly tuned snare drum. The good news is that five things can positively impact your snare drum sound, whether you play a basic model from a starter set or a professional-level drum. If any of the following terms are unfamiliar, please check out our free jargon-busting glossary!
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1. Select the right heads for your snare drum.
Snare drums can come in different sizes and shell types. However, there is one thing that is quite common on most snare drums - they usually leave the factory with a single-ply, coated batter head. This is generally accepted as the industry standard snare drum head and always a good starting point if you are thinking of making a change. If your snare drum head is worn (where all of the coating has been worn off to just a plain, smooth plastic surface at the center of the head), it has multiple pits (small dents or "pits" occur when the drum has been hit too hard, with inadequate technique, or perhaps with a damaged drum stick), then it's time to consider a new drum head.
If you are a hard-hitter and prefer playing harder/louder music, you might want to think about a heavier-weight snare drum head, such as a two-ply model. This may last longer than a single-ply head and can also give you a more controlled (less resonant) sound. The snare side head (also known as a "hazy" head) is also important. This is the bottom head, to which the snare wires touch and create that classic snare "crack." Typically, this needs to be a thinner model and lighter weight than the batter side. This article can help you with drum head selection.
2. Good tuning is essential.
Tuning a snare drum is a skill that is learned over time, and most badly tuned snare drums result from understandable inexperience. Given as there have been many videos, DVDs, and even books produced on this subject, it's fair to say that this has always been the Achilles heel of many drummers, of all levels of experience. The good news is that there is help! This article discussed one of the most innovative inventions in drum set advancements - the DrumDial. Our best advice to any drummer is to invest in one of these neat devices and take the time, frustration, and mystique out of drum tuning. If you can't get to your friendly local drum retailer, you can buy one here. As an Amazon.com affiliate, we may receive a commission if you choose to do this.
3. Additional dampening makes a huge difference.
Even with new drum heads and good tuning, it is still possible for a snare drum to ring more than desired and produce unwanted overtones. This is where additional dampening becomes extremely useful. Once again, this article discusses the effectiveness of Moongel, and there are other putties and rubber-based products that can be applied directly to the drum head and adjusted as necessary, giving you a vastly more controllable snare drum sound. Tone rings are also a good option, but these are less controllable.
4. Don't choke the snare drum.
Every snare drum has a snare strainer on the side of the drum. A dial on the top of this device adjusts the tension of the snare wires, and it is important to get the right balance of buzz and control. If the snare wires are too loose, the strands of wire will continue to vibrate long after the drum has been played, and this can be bothersome. On the other hand, if the wires are too tight, they will choke the effectiveness of this critical function, producing an abrupt, sharp sound. When achieved at the right balance, snare buzz is a desirable and musical feature of the snare drum.
The image below shows the snare drum from the "snare side" with the snare strainer pictured at the top/right of the drum.
5. The condition of the snare wires is important.
Most snare wires consist of twenty or so individual strands. If individual strands become damaged or loose, this can affect the sound. Individual strands can be removed if necessary using scissors or wire cutters, but be careful not to leave exposed sharp ends at the edges that can cut into the snare-side head. As this is a very lightweight head, it is easily damaged or torn.
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