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Snare Conundrum

After last month’s Leader column outlining the difference between products we’re asked to buy and products we actually need, I realised I’d missed out the really big one. It is all to do with the drum kit, and if you look at its history it comes as no surprise that there are ‘issues’. Pretty much all the elements of the kit evolved from individual marching drums that were never designed to be used together as a kit. The kick drum, for example, started life as a chest-worn bass drum played by hand using beaters. Cymbals were clashed together in pairs, while the snare drum was designed to be audible at great distances and hence fitted with wire snares. If a balance problem existed, you simply got more people to play the type of drum that was losing out.

Put them all together in a kit and, aside from taking up more than half the available floor space at any typical pub gig, what’s the first thing you notice? That’s right, as soon as the drummer starts to test his or her kit, everybody flinches at the first snare drum hit, because the typical snare is almost dangerously loud when used in a small venue. In fact many drummers realise this and wear in-ear attenuators, which encourages them to hit the wretched things even harder!

Because the snare drum is so loud, everybody in the band ends up having to play rather more loudly than is comfortable and then the pub gets a noise abatement notice for upsetting the neighbours. I play in two bands, one with conventional drums and one with a cajon; I know which one is kinder to my ears. However, a cajon isn’t really a substitute for a drum kit for all styles of music, so what the world really needs is a quieter snare drum that still sounds great.

I’m sure that, given the other wonderful things the music industry has to offer us, a snare drum that is maybe 15 to 20 dB less loud than current models is not too much to ask for. It may be possible to attenuate the crack of the snare using internal or external baffles to obscure part of the snare head, but if that doesn’t work out, how about an electronically generated snare sound that can be added to a conventional snare drum with its wire snares removed? Given that the wire snares produce mainly high frequencies, a small powered speaker and its box of electronics clipped to the side of the snare drum should do the trick. In fact it might even be able to go inside the drum. The snare sound would be triggered by a sensor on the lower drum head and there would be simple controls for adjusting the volume of the snare sound and its timbre. I’m convinced that a solution exists, and while we’re at it, how about some quieter cymbals? I’m sure that could be achieved by simply creating strategically placed holes.