How to Play Snare Drum: A Beginner's Guide (2023)

How to Play Snare Drum: A Beginner's Guide (1)

Want to boost your snare drum technique? Whether you want to improve your sound on your kit or play snare in a marching band, this guide from drum instructor Tracy D. covers everything you need to know about how to play snare drum notes.

The snare drum is the signature voice of your kit. It’s also an expressive solo instrument and an integral part of any marching band. Good snare drum technique is essential for any drummer, as the snare sits front-and-center in recordings of all genres.

Some snare techniques are relevant only to certain styles, while other fundamentals apply across the board. No matter what style you want to play, learning how to read basic snare drum music is key to learning new rudiments and following along with songs. If you develop your sight-reading skills, you’ll be able to sit in with any band or orchestra and be rock solid!

This guide will cover the basics of snare drum for beginners, along with tips on how to read simple snare drum notes. In addition to the exercises below, I recommend delving into a bit of solo snare drum music — both rudimental and orchestral — as this will help you refine your technique. Continue reading to find out about different grips, rudiments, and rolls, plus how to get the best sound from your snare!

Note: snare drum notes are usually written on the second space from the top of the staff (or, less commonly, on the middle line). Sometimes, a snare part may be written on a single line.

How to Play Snare Drum Notes (With Beginner Sheet Music)

As a beginner, you should focus on the accuracy and evenness of the snare drum notes and on tempo and dynamic control. Get used to playing with a metronome right away; you will use this tool for the life of your playing. (There are many free metronome apps, so there’s no excuse not to have one).

Here are some exercises to get you going in the right direction.

Note: play these exercises with a right-hand lead.

Marching Snare Drum

To prepare to play marching snare drum music, do your research on websites and forums, and find videos of marching band performances that will inspire you to get in the shed. Strike up a conversation with drummers you know and ask them for their tips and tricks.

If you want to play snare in a marching band, you have to acquire precision and the ability to listen closely and sync with the drummers around you.

If you want to play snare in a marching band, you have to acquire precision and the ability to listen closely and sync with the drummers around you.

You will also likely be required to work on the visual components of a performance (in addition to matching stick heights with your section), so you need to have your timing down.

Know your rudiments inside and out; they’re fundamental when it comes to playing snare in a marching band. They are also an important part of snare drum basics, no matter what style you play. We’ll talk more about rudiments after we get a grip on the sticks!

Make sure to practice these exercises to help you master snare drum basics.

Snare Drum With Traditional Grip

The traditional grip was initially used to allow a snare drummer’s left hand to clear the rim of a side-slung drum comfortably. This grip is still commonly used in marching drum lines and jazz settings.

Turn your left hand to the side as if you’re reaching out to shake someone’s hand. Place the stick in the opening between your thumb and index finger (which will be your fulcrum), and rest the front end on the cuticle of your ring finger.

Your fingers will provide support and control, and your wrist will turn in a rotary motion to initiate the stroke. Your right hand will use the matched grip position.

Check out this article and infographic for a more in-depth look at how to hold drum sticks.

Tips for Playing Rudiments

The rudiments are kind of like a drummer’s vocabulary. They’re used extensively in marching literature and rudimental solos/etudes. They’re also used in drum set playing to create some compelling and challenging grooves and fills.

The Percussive Arts Society recognizes 40 rudiments, although there are many more, including hybrids.

No matter what type of music you want to play, it’s essential that you learn drum rudiments and practice them consistently. Think of rudiments as your bread and butter!

Be sure to check out this beginner’s guide to drum rudiments.

Snare Drum Rolls

Pretty much any snare drum roll can be applied to the whole kit. However, the buzz/press roll is most characteristic of the snare. This role requires some patience to master, as you have to work to make it sound smooth and seamless.

This video demonstrates the multiple bounce/buzz roll and six other essential drum rudiments.

Unless you’re using accents or flams for these roll skeletons, strive for even stick heights. Here again, you will refer to the rudiments; they’re the foundation of all drum rolls.

This roll skeleton chart will help you interpret multiple bounce rolls. The rolls termed “written” represent the norm for the notation you will encounter in literature. Those termed “played” demonstrate the number of strokes needed to execute the fills—and those numbers vary according to tempo.

Experiment with the surface of the drum. You will have more “deadness” toward the center of the drum, but you will get plenty of volume. You can play close to the rim for quieter passages (and play over the snares to activate them best).

Play Snare Drum Fast

As you learn how to play snare drum, you might get excited to play fast! Keep in mind that this takes a lot of work. Fast playing is the result of plenty of repetition. It’s essential to strive for accuracy first, so make sure you practice with your metronome!

Try these drum exercises to improve your speed and control.

Remember, when it comes to drums: accuracy + repetition + gradual increase in tempo = precision and speed.

Enjoy the process and be consistent and diligent if you want to reap the rewards of the articulate, nuanced, and powerful technique.

Whether you want to learn how to play snare drum to join a marching band or you want to improve your skills on your kit, we hope these tips and exercises have been helpful. It takes time for a new technique to take root and become second nature. Keep the metronome going and the sticks moving!

The Best Way to Learn How to Play Snare Drum Notes

When it comes to reaching your full potential as a drummer, there’s no better way to get there than with the help of a private drum instructor. To properly learn how to play snare drum and develop good playing habits, personalized guidance from a teacher is priceless. Whenever you’re feeling stuck, your teacher can help you find the beat again!

Ready to play? Search for a drum instructor near you.

What are your favorite snare drum exercises? Let us know in the comments below!

Post Author:Tracy D.
Tracy D. teaches percussion and drum lessons in Edmond, OK, as well as online. She has played the drums for more than 13 years. Tracy earned her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Oklahoma Christian University and has played with the OKC Community Orchestra since 2009. Learn more about Tracy!

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