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Tips for Purchasing a Concert Snare Drum

Metal or wood? Coiled snares or cabled? Here’s what to look for.

The snare drum is the central instrument in the percussion section — important in both concert band and orchestral literature. Here’s what you need to know when picking the next snare drum for your school’s music program.

Metal vs. Wood Shell

The shell of a snare drum can be made out of an assortment of materials, though it’s usually metal or wood. Metal shells can be made out of steel, aluminum or copper. Wooden shells can be made of maple, birch, mahogany and/or a variety and combination of other woods. With all these choices, it’s important to know the sonic characteristics of the two:

Metal shell characteristics

  • Bright, sharp tone
  • Fast attack
  • Long sustain

Wood shell characteristics

  • Warm, dark tone
  • Round attack
  • Maximum resonance
Two snare drums.

Snare Material

The snare drum gets its name from the material that is stretched across the snare (bottom) head to produce a buzzing sound. Snares can be made from wire, cable, gut or other synthetic materials. The two most common types of snares are coils and cables.

Coiled snare wire characteristics

  • Bright sound
  • Long sustain (this makes it easier for smooth sounding rolls)
  • Quick response at soft dynamics

Cable snare wire characteristics

  • Warm, dark sound
  • Short sustain
  • Fuller sound at loud dynamics
Side by side images of a coiled snare vs a cabled snare.

Which Drum is Best for My Ensemble?

Unfortunately, there is no one “correct” answer when it comes to picking out a snare drum. Drums with metal shells are generally less expensive than those with wooden shells, and metal drums usually have coiled snares while wooden drums have cable snares. Traditionally, metal shell snares have been used with wind ensembles and wood shell ones with symphony orchestras. In fact, any drum will work with any ensemble, though it’s good to have a selection of snare drums to use on different pieces. In addition, you can always switch the snares (or drum heads) to change the sound of the drum.

And here’s a tip that can make your purchase decision easier: When you attend a concert and you hear a snare drum you like, find out what drum the percussionists are using. That will always point you in a good direction!

Check out these videos about Yamaha concert snare drums:

Click here for more information about the full line of Yamaha concert snare drums.

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