The snare drum is a two headed instrument: that is it has skins on both sides. Stretched across the bottom skin is a snare, which comprises a number of twisted wires or gut that sit up against the skin, which “buzz” against the skin when the drum is struck. These can number from two to nearer 20. The orchestral snare usually sits on a stand, and is played with two hard wooden sticks. The performer can produce a variety of effects striking a snare drum, the most common being single alternate hand strokes, tremolos or rolls both open and closed, flams, double strike, drag, and ruff, among others. The snare drum can be played with the snare under tension against the skin, or “Snare On”, or the snare can have the tension released, lowering the snare away from the skin, called “Snare Off.” The composer should note the following:
Snares on or off should be clearly marked before the passage to be played is commenced. Performers regularly release the snare when not playing, to minimise any chance the snare will buzz of its own accord, in tune with sympathetic harmonies generated by other orchestral instruments. It is the author’s experience as an orchestral player that Brass in particular can create harmonics that cause the snare to buzz. The snare drum comes in a variety of sizes, from a narrow 4inch piccolo snare, to a deep military version that could up to about 36 inches.
As for the Tympani, any instructions to the snare drum performer should be clearly marked, and specific effects required should be on the initial page of the part, so the performer is prepared. The composer should also clearly specify if the snare drum to be played is constructed with a wire or gut snare, if that is his specific intent.