(Answered) Is a Snare Drum Indefinite pitch? [and more]

The snare drum produces a sharp pitch when played. It is usually struck on the top skin, or the rim creating a short staccato sound. The snare is identified clearly through the tensioned wires arranged under the bottom skin of the drum. But is the snare drum indefinite in pitch?

A snare drum is classed as indefinite pitch as it is unable to play an exact pitch or tune. Alongside other drums like the bass, the set tone of the individual drum is not tuneable, and thus is classed as an indefinite pitch percussion instrument with the triangle, tambourine or cymbal.

There are many more indefinite pitched percussion instruments, but here we look specifically at the snare drum and its place in the musical arrangement of bands or orchestras.

Hang On. I’ve Read that Snare Drums are Pitched?

I have also seen some websites, sadly educational ones, claiming that snare drums are pitched percussion. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification for snare drum is unpitched for sure. Where the confusion comes is because the tension of the snare can be adjusted, which will affect the oscillation of the wires hung under the lower head.

This can create a slight difference in how the snare drum sounds when it is struck, much the same way a pandeiro can be adjusted to change the sound the head makes.

But whilst playing the tension is set and thus a tune can not be played.

So yes, the sound can be changed slightly with an alteration, but this does not place the snare drum in the picthed percission classification

Why is it Called a Snare Drum?

The twisted wires held under tension at the bottom of the drum which can be brought closer and further away from the drum head are also known as snares. The produce the short, sharp rattle sound when the snare drum is played.

How Does a Snare Drum Work?

The Snare drum works by the striking of the head of the drum. This transmits air vibrations through the inside of the drum to the lower head passing through and affecting the tension stretched wires suspended below the skin. The effect is almost instantaneous, creating a high pitched staccato sound.

This is not as simple a procedure as you might imagine, so let’s take a look at the parts of the snare drum that all work together to create one of the most important and versatile drums in use today.

Parts of a Snare Drum

There are many parts of a snare drum with no one part taking precedence in importance over another, although not all are listed below, these are the key elements you may have previously heard reference to.


The shell of the snare drum is generally but not exclusively, constructed of wood. This can be a single wood, or mixture thereof. The most popular woods in the construction of the shell of a snare drum would be Mahogany, Ash, Maple Birch, and many others

The shell material can also be metal in many models while we do see more and more synthetic materials being used int he modern day


The rim is the destination for the famous ‘rim-shots’ and will almost always be metal in construction. You’ll have a choice of Die cast or triple flange and less frwuently you may have the option of a wooden rim.

The choice of rim material is of course going to have an affect on the overall sound of the snare and maybe chosen based on what application or set up the snare will be used.

The rim is very frequently played and is of course an unpitched percussion sound too.


The lugs are used to affect the tension of the drum head and as such can have an effect on the soundof the snare.

These tension rods are pretty much standard across all snare designs although some variations can be found. It s not something to worry about in terms of whether the snare drum is Indefinite pitch. They may change the tension of the drum head, but they will take the snare drum out of the indefinite pitch percussion class alone

Snare Wires

You will almost always find the snare wres constructed of a spiral of thi wire that interacts with the lower drum head to give hte isntrument it’s distinctive sound.

They can differ in number and also be made from plastics in some cases.

Again, the snare wires do not affect the pitch of the drum


The strainer’s only purpose is to hold the snare wires in place and allow you to adjust the tension. They have no impact on the overall sound other than any difference in the tension of the wires has on the overall sound of the snare drum.


The snare drum head is a personal choice if you are lookig for a slightly different feel from your snare, or want to be less confined by having to muffle.

This article is mainly about the snare being an unpitched percussion instrument, and not about the individual parts, so this guide on drum heads will offer more information.

What is a Snare Drum Used For?

The snare drum has a huge range of applications not least as one of the main elements of a seated drummers drumset. Snare drums are also used in orchestras, Marching bands, Concert bands and Drum Corps.

  1. Rock & Pop Bands
  2. Orchestras
  3. Concert bands
  4. Marching Bands
  5. Parades
  6. Drumlines
  7. Drum Corps

Further Percussion Instrument Reading

These other articles features on site are related to the topic above and may provide more reading material for you within the percussion information section.

Best Percussion Instruments for Kids

Every child is encouraged to play a musical instrument and percussion is usually the first port of call. These great percussion instrument ideas for kids provide some new ideas away from the regular drums and glockenspiel options.

11 Percussion Instruments Anyone Can Play

If you have already sorted out the kids with thier instruments, perhaps there are some intrumental ideas you are considering for yourself.

Here are a list of 11 percussion instruments anyone can play including steel percussion options like the Rav Vast which you will be able to play without any musical knowledge or experience.

What Percussion Instruments Produce Definte Pitch?

So we have found in this article that a snare drum is an indefinite pitch percussion instrument. This article looks into the various instruments in the percussion family that are tunable and can offer pitched percussion options.

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