The snare drum is one of the most recognizable and important percussion instruments ever created, with its distinctive sound used across a wide range of musical styles and genres.
All snare drums share certain attributes and are designed to produce a similar sound. However, snares are available in a variety of different sizes, and this has a direct impact on the tone, playability, and dynamics.
Larger snare drums are better suited to genres that require more volume, and a more open sound, while those with smaller dimensions produce a crisp, tighter sound with reduced maximum volume.
If you’re unsure which snare drum you should use, this guide will take you through all of the basics to the more advanced information on the different snare drum dimensions.
- Snare Drum Sizes: The Basics
- Common Snare Drum Diameters
- Common Snare Drum Depths
- Stylistic Applications for Different Snare Sizes
Snare Drum Sizes: The Basics
It seems logical that larger drums produce louder volumes, and this is most commonly the case with snare drums, but in addition to the impact on volume, the size is also linked to the attack, decay, frequency response, and stylistic suitability of the drum.
Snare drum sizes vary based on two variables – the diameter and depth.
Diameter is the distance from one side of the rim to the other, and depth is the distance between the top and bottom drum skins.
Most modern snare drums are sized at 14 inches in diameter and between 5.5 and 6.5 inches in depth. But snare drum sizes vary wildly, which we’ll explore below.
Common Snare Drum Diameters
Snare drum diameters can range from as compact as 8 inches to as large as 16 inches. The diameter determines which of the three main categories below the snare falls into:
- Mini snares (often used as auxiliary snares)
- Regular-sized snares
- Ballad snares
Before we discuss the various depths of snare drums, let’s analyze the ways that the dimensions affect sound and playability.
Mini Snare Drums (8-12 inches)
Mini snare drums are easy to spot as they have a significantly smaller diameter compared to other varieties.
These snares are likely to be used as secondary ‘auxiliary’ snares, or for specific purposes such as street performing and busking.
In terms of their sound, these small snares are generally much quieter than regular or larger drums, and they produce higher pitches. Unless they are mic’d up, snare drums that are this small are unsuitable for playing live shows as the sound won’t carry far enough.
Regular-Sized Snare Drums (13-14 inches)
The most common snare drum diameters fall between 13 to 14 inches, and these are the ones you’re most likely to use in contemporary music styles.
14 inches is the standard for genres like rock and pop drumming, as it has a large surface area, making it easy to hit with your stick.
Furthermore, these standard snare drum sizes balance substantial maximum volume and the tonal crispness required for applications such as playing live or recording. They produce lower, deeper frequencies than smaller snares.
Ballad Snare Drums (15-16 inches)
Snare drums that have diameters of 15 or 16 inches provide the maximum volume, providing they have a depth to match. These snares are very uncommon, but they produce a unique sound.
These large snare drums produce a fatter, lower pitch than smaller varieties.
Playing a ballad snare drum is an awkward experience when compared to playing a regular or smaller-sized drum, as it feels much wider on the snare drum stand and it takes up a lot more space between your legs.
Common Snare Drum Depths
Now that we’ve covered the different diameters that snare drums are available in, let’s analyze the other highly important piece of the puzzle – depth.
Snare drum depth, like diameter, has a dramatic impact on the sound it produces, but it’s the combination of these two dimensions that determines the tone, dynamics, and other qualities of the snare.
When it comes to depth, snares fall into four categories:
- Shallow snares (piccolo snare drums)
- Standard snares
- Deep snares
- Extra deep snares
Shallow Snare Drums (3-4 inches)
Snare drums with limited depth are quite uncommon and are usually only used for very specific musical styles or purposes. For example, the “piccolo snare” has a depth of only three inches, and it, therefore, produces a very fast attack with less overall volume.
Snare drums that have a depth of 3-4 inches, like the piccolo snare, are likely to have a diameter of around 12” or 13”, but are often 14” in diameter too.
Standard Snare Drums (5-6.5 inches)
Most of the snare drums you’ll find on conventional drum sets have a depth of 5-6.5 inches. This depth provides the ideal balance of attack, dynamic range, and increased sustain after the skin has been struck.
For live performances of popular music genres, standard snare drums are perfect. They’re also great for recording, as they don’t overpower the other drums, but they still stand out enough to be a prominent part of the mix.
Deep Snare Drums (7-8 inches)
Deep snare drums have a slower attack compared to their shallower equivalents, which results in a fatter sound. When you hit them with your stick, the sound takes longer to decay, giving it more thickness.
This can be ideal for drummers who want their snare to be a significant part of their overall sound, and it also makes it possible to play louder when required.
Extra Deep Snare Drums (9-12 inches)
Finally, the deepest varieties of snare drums will offer unrivaled volume, a powerful sound, and a long decay that is sure to stand out amongst other instruments. For most musical genres, snares with a depth of around 9 inches or more are likely to be overkill, but for specific styles where the snare is the main focus, they can work well.
Stylistic Applications for Different Snare Sizes
The reason that snares drums are available in so many different sizes is to cater to the various musical genres that drummers play. It’s important to understand which snare drum sizes are suited to the different styles so that you know which you should opt for.
Of course, there are many exceptions to the rules, but if you’re looking for a general guideline and idea of which different types of snare drums will suit your playing, here are some options to consider.
Jazz and Fusion
Jazz drumming heavily relies on the snare and involves intricate techniques, varying dynamics, and great control. Therefore, most jazz drummers opt for standard drum kit snares – which have an average width and depth of 14” x 5.5”, respectively.
Indeed, styles like jazz fusion may require a slightly different tone or attack, which may lead to drummers choosing to use slightly shallower snare drums, or those with less extensive diameters.
In most cases, the dimensions will be close to those previously stated, though.
Rock and Heavy Metal
When it comes to snares for heavier styles of music, such as rock, hard rock, and metal, the drum needs to be powerful, loud, thick, and penetrative. It’s common, therefore, for drummers to use snares that have a diameter of 14 inches, and a depth of between 5.5 and 7 inches.
These dimensions provide the ideal balance of loudness and tonal clarity required for rock, metal, and their many subgenres. Generally, the heavier the musical style, the more likely the drummer is to opt for slightly larger snare drums to ensure that they match the dynamics of the guitars, bass, and other instruments.
Pop, R&B, Funk, and Hip-Hop
For less intense styles of drumming that require a lot of feel and consistency, drummers are likely to opt for snares that have a slightly higher pitch – which means they have slightly smaller diameters.
Stripped-back performances of R&B, pop, funk, and hip-hop are likely to include snare drums with diameters and depths of around 12-14 inches and 4-5.5 inches, respectively.
Snare drums are also featured heavily in classical music. These snares are likely to be a similar size to those used for contemporary styles like jazz and rock.
Most orchestral and concert snare drums have a diameter of 14 inches, and a depth of around 5.5 inches. This produces a blend of deep tones with substantial volumes that are perfect for the techniques used by classic percussionists.
Marching snare drums are generally 14 inches in diameter, and 12 inches in depth. They are amongst the deepest varieties of snare drums, as they need to reach very high volumes to be heard without a microphone.
The significant depth of a marching snare is what gives it its power and ensures that all of the techniques, such as rolls and flams, can be clearly heard.
Snare drums with a depth of 12 inches are unlikely to be used in many other musical styles, other than in military-style marching bands.