The snare drum is a fundamental part of almost every modern drum kit. Its simple design and use of materials offer players an incredible amount of variation in drum notation. The drum evolved as a result of its usage in war and a requirement for more volume and variation by military modern drummers.
The modern snare drum evolved from the tabor. The tabor instrument had a gut snare over the skin which was larger than most snare drums of today. The player would play a fife or pipe as they drummed. The tabor was used mostly as a military instrument from the 14th century but the snare drum gradually evolved as Swiss mercenaries continue to use the instrument in the 15th century. The drum was carried on the side of the body by Swiss players.
The biggest changes to the snare drum happened from the 17th century as screws allowed better control over the snare. Snare drums also began to be made from brass during the 19th century, giving a much clearer and crisper sound. In the 20th century, the metal snare was added to the drum by using coiled wire strung over the skin of the drum. A throw of strainer was also added to the snare drum which allowed the player to change the drum to a tom-tom at the hit of a lever.
For hundreds of years, the snare drum was carried by the player who used some kind of strap to secure the drum to the player. The drum was mostly used for military purposes from the time of the tabor. It was used to maintain military discipline, ceremonial reasons and also for practical purposes on the battlefield. The snare drum was often used to motivate and signal to troops of various orders and formations. It was also used to communicate orders between troops and officers over long distances. This is a theme that continues for hundreds of years from the days of usage by the Swiss Mercenaries to later usage in the English and American Civil Wars.
The snare drum was used by bands after the American Civil War and later by early Jazz musicians that used various types of drums as a drum set up. The biggest development for the snare drum was the stand which allowed players to play it with one hand and allowing free usage of the other hand and feet to play other parts of the instrument. It most likely came about by theater groups looking to play more than one drum or cymbal at the same time due to limited space and tight budgets.
The rudiments used by military drummers are still an important part of the modern drummer’s ability to play at various speeds and with variation. The snare drum has undergone various changes from its military usage but it still remains simple in design. The stand and metal snare that could be adjusted as well as being able to change the snare to a tom-tom have all been part of the evolution of the modern snare drum.