Snare Drum History Essay

Side drum or field drum

In the 14th century the practice of one man playing both pipe and drum ended, the instruments being played henceforth by two musicians. This separation was a consequence of the way the two instruments were evolving: the pipe’s compass was increased, making it necessary to use both hands to play the instrument, and the relatively soft-sounding tabor was made larger to increase its volume, which was a requirement particularly of military music. The result was the side or field drum.

The history of the town of Basel in Switzerland records the existence of an “Association of Drum and Fife” as early as 1332. The members of this “guild” were important figures at public festivities.

In the course of the 15th century the drum that was struck from the side became ever larger and ever louder to meet the changing requirements of military bands. It became too large to be hung over the forearm and was now attached to a strap over the drummer’s shoulder or tied to a belt around his waist. The widely known “Swiss” drums became the model for drum-makers all over Europe. The small tabor remained in use as a folk instrument while the new, large drum became an important instrument with lansquenets (German foot soldiers). It is for this reason that the side drum is sometimes also called the field drum, or, in historical contexts, the lansquenet drum (tambour de lansquenet) or long drum. “Fife and drum” symbolized the common foot soldiers, while trumpets and kettledrums represented the cavalry.

The field drum was between 50 and 70 cm deep (some models were as deep as one meter) and had a diameter of 50 cm. It was beaten with a pair of heavy sticks. From the 16th century the snares were stretched across the lower skin, the snare head.

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