There are many approaches to tuning a snare drum. Here is a five-step method that I recommend:
1. Throw the snares off.
2. Tune the bottom (“snare”) head first.
3. With the snares still off, tune the top (“batter”) head.
4. Put the snares on.
5. Adjust the tension of the snares, making sure that you do not tighten them too much, which will create a darker, “choked” tenor-like sound.
The heads that you use, coupled with your tuning/ muffling scheme, will determine the final sound.
1. For the most “traditional” and “wettest” sound, use a plastic/ mylar head on top and bottom with little or no muffling.
2. For an unusual sound, use a plastic/mylar head on top and a thin Kevlar head on bottom. This choice creates an “open” sound above the drum and a “boxy” sound below. This combination is not my favorite!
3. For a semi-dry, articulate sound, use a medium-heavy, loose-weave kevlar head on top and a plastic/mylar head on bottom. Do not muffle the heads although you might use a small piece of tape across the snares at each end. I prefer this combination.
4. For the “driest/boxiest” sound possible, use a kevlar head on top and a thinner kevlar head on bottom, with tape on the snares. This setup works well for “indoor” drum lines and certain musical styles but not all outdoor performances.
Concert and Drum Set Heads.
1. Always use a thin plastic head on bottom (the “snare” head).
2. You have several choices for the top (“batter”) head:
a. A smooth white head is fine for sticks but not good for brushes.
b. A coated white head is your best choice for all-purpose playing with sticks or brushes.
c. A clear pinstripe head is great for toms but not for a snare.
d. A FibreSkyn head is a synthetic head that imitates calfskin. It is wonderful in a concert band or orchestra setting but not very useful on drumset.
e. A Remo “Renaissance” head is a sensitive batter head used by many orchestral players.
3. Experiment with tuning schemes. You might like the bottom head to be a bit tighter than the batter head for concert/drum set use.
4. Muffle the batter head if necessary; never muffle the snare head.
About the Author
Dennis DeLucia is a percussion teacher, arranger, clinician and judge. A former member of the West Point Band, he is best known for his successes with championship corps and bands.