If you’re a drummer, then there’s at least one drum that you can never do without: the snare. While you might be familiar with the array of different percussive sounds you can get out of a snare, if you’re a beginner, you might not necessarily know how to access all of them. Even a small adjustment in your playing can make a snare drum sound completely different, and here, I’ll offer up some essential tips that will help you get to know your snare a little better.
- 1. Snare On or Off?
- 2. Rim Click
- Rim Click Technique
- 3. Rim Shot
- Rim Shot Technique
- 4. Ghost Notes
- 5. Flams & Drag Ruffs
- 6. Triggers
- 7. Turn it Upside Down
- See Also…
1. Snare On or Off?
The easiest way to make a snare sound completely different is to switch off the snare mat by flipping the ‘throw’: the little lever at the side. When the snare wires of the mat are touching the resonant head on the underside of the drum, you get that classic crisp sound that snare drums are known for. When you ‘switch it off’, the wires of the mat no longer touch the resonant head, giving the snare a really specific sound – a bit like a weird-sounding tom. While it’s not necessarily the most usable sound a snare has to offer, it definitely has its uses, as demonstrated by Matt Cameron up to the 3:30 mark in Like Suicide by Soundgarden:
2. Rim Click
Another way to get a different sound out of your snare is to learn to play rim clicks. These are not to be confused with rim shots, which I’ll talk about later.
Rim Click Technique
To play a rim click, lay both the butt of your drumstick and the base of your palm against the batter head. Now, strike the rim of your snare without removing the butt from the drumhead. You should hear a clear ‘click’ and no ‘drum sound’.
The sound of a rim click depends on the drum, the tension hoop, and the stick you use, but there will always be a sweet spot: that specific spot of the drumhead where you lay the stick and the angle at which the rim is struck. These are essential points if you want to play the best rim click possible, so it’s worth experimenting to find the sweet spot of your snare and then marking the position of the butt of your stick with a pen so you can always find it.
You’ll hear a lot of rim clicks in reggae drumming, and in the demonstration video below, you can see just how much they’re used. You’ll also notice that the drummer is holding his stick the other way around, holding the tip against the drumhead. This isn’t necessarily required but can give your rim clicks more power.
You can also strike the rim of your snare with the shoulder of your stick (the bit where it tapers to the tip) and by removing the palm of your hand from the drumhead which will give you a less ‘slicing’ attack. You can hear this method on ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille. It’s a handy technique for carrying the rhythm when using a rhythm cymbal is a bit too much for the song.
3. Rim Shot
Another way to use the rim of your snare is the rim shot. A rim shot has an entirely different sound than a rim click since it uses the full sound of the shell and has loads of attack to it, so it only makes sense that it’s a great effect to use during live gigs, or just for playing harder rock and metal. Brad Wilk (Prophets Of Rage, and formerly of Rage Against The Machine) is a big fan of rim shots:
Rim Shot Technique
To play a rim shot, strike the batter head with the tip of your stick and hit the rim with the shoulder of the stick (the bit where the stick tapers to the tip) at the same time. It takes a little practice to get the hang of hitting the drumhead and rim at the same time, but it’s well worth learning. And once you’ve nailed it, you can easily inject your playing with greater dynamic range.
4. Ghost Notes
You can also really play with the dynamics of your snare work using ghost notes. A ghost note is actually nothing more than a normal snare hit, except it’s much quieter and is often used to inject more groove into a beat. With ghost notes, it’s almost as if you feel the strike more than you actually hear it, and it’s that feeling that makes the beat danceable. Of course, this doesn’t always have to be the case, since the force used to play ghost notes will depend on the setting and what the song needs. Benny Greb uses a lot of ghost notes to make his beats swing, as you can see and hear on the track ‘Tricky’ included below:
5. Flams & Drag Ruffs
A more specific way of using ghost notes is the flam: a classic one-count rudiment. To play it, simply hit the snare normally (or a rim shot), and just before the strike, play the ghost note with the other stick. This will give you a fuller sound that can be controlled by reducing or increasing the space between the two hits. You can also play a flam on various drums, so you could play the first ghost note on the floor tom and then finish the flam with a rim shot on the snare. You can find out more about playing flams in our blog about the drumming rudiments and you can see an example of flams in the clip included below.
A drag ruff (also just a ‘drag’ or ‘ruff’) is a variation of the flam. Instead of playing a single ghost note before the count, two ghost notes, or a soft roll is played with one hand (see the second clip below).
Using triggers is a really easy way to make a snare drum (or any other drum) sound completely different. A trigger is a small piece of electronic equipment that’s mounted onto the hoop of the snare where it can pick up the vibrations of the drumhead. The vibrations are then converted into an electronic signal and sent to a connected drum module which then plays back a selected sample through a connected speaker. Triggers can be used to add extra depth to your snare sound, or you can even add a sample of a beatring or hand clap, or in fact, any percussive sound or sample you might want. If your snare is fitted with mesh-heads, then you can even just use the trigger sound, without the acoustic sound of the drum.
In the example included below from DDrum, every drum has a trigger installed. At 2:34, you can hear the drum sound without triggers: from 3:15, you can hear the sound of the triggers; and from 3:49, you can hear a mix of the acoustic sound and the trigger sound, where you’ll immediately notice that the triggered sound adds more attack. This is just one example of what’s possible with triggers. We definitely recommend trying them out and experimenting with them!
7. Turn it Upside Down
A more drastic way of getting a different sound out of your snare is to literally turn it upside down so that you’re hitting the much thinner resonance head on the bottom. Because of the snare mat, the sound is a little dampened, while the batter head is now at the bottom, so you basically get a really thick resonant head. This results in a really snappy sound with very little sustain – which would make plenty of funk drummers jealous. However, you need to watch out if you play your snare like this, because if you get carried away, you might risk punching a hole through your resonant head. Resonant heads are usually only around 2 to 5mm thick, while batter heads tend to be around 7.5mm thick and can even be 15mm thick. You also need to take care not to damage your snare mat since you might bend a few of the wires and alter the natural sound of your snare forever (or until you replace the mat).
A really great demonstration of what you can do when you flip your snare, courtesy of Han Kerkhof, can be seen below. He also shows how you can use the wires of the snare as a kind of guiro. Did you also spot the trigger?
As you’ve read, the humble snare drum is an enormously versatile instrument that can be played in a myriad of different ways. If you tried out these techniques or want to share some you’ve found yourself, let us know in the comments.
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