Despite its popularity learning how to play the snare drum isn’t easy, and it takes patience, practice, and time.

The snare drum is featured in orchestral and marching percussion scores and is one of Western music’s most widely utilized instruments. 

A lot is going on, from setting up and tunning drums to having good dynamics and learning to drum roll. This is why so many people get scared of learning to play drums at first.

Positive thinking and discipline will get you through, but you must trust the process. 

In this post, I decided to break the learning process into seven not-so-hard steps. These steps are intuitive and easy to follow, so make sure to pay attention.

Step 1 – Set up your snare drum

Before you learn how to play the snare drum, you need to set it up as it best suits you. Setting up is very important, and skipping it will make your learning process harder.

How should a snare drum be positioned?

Position your snare drum a couple of inches above your feet so that when you hit it, the stick won’t hit your feet. 

You should play around with it and find the most suitable position. If you can hit the drum and advance your technique easily, you are positioning it correctly.

How to set up a snare drum stand?

Place the snare drum on a stand so the snares are on the bottom.

The next step is to adjust the snare basket so the snare drum is snug and cannot move. Using the height adjustment, adjust the snare drum so that the top rim of the drum is slightly below your waistline.

How to set up snare drum wires?

The first thing you should do is flip your snare drum upside down. Then, lay the snare wire bed flat and position it carefully in the center. 

Thread the cords or straps through the holes, keeping things as centered and even as possible. Any uneven tension will affect the mechanics and the sound.

You should loosen the tension knob to the max. Then, carefully adjust the knob to be about in the middle. After the bed is secure, take your time and slowly bring the tension knob to the – on position. Then, you can adjust the tension knob up and down with ease. Continue to experiment with the tension of the snare wires and the tension knob until a crisp snare sound is achieved.

Step 2 – Snare drum tunning

Loosen the top head completely. Place the drum on a flat surface and unscrew all the tension rods so that there is no tension on the top head. 

You don’t need to take them out; loosen them all the way. Next, begin to tighten down each rod until they touch the counter hoop (or rim) without pulling it down. Just screw the tension rod down until it just touches. 

Go across the drum and do the same to the opposite tension rod and repeat, always working across the drum head in opposites. 

This keeps the head very even. When all the tension rods are seated and just touching the counter hoop, take the tool like the Evans torque key, set the desired tensile strength, and start tightening down each rod. You can also use a Tama tension watch to see the tensile strength of each rod.

Remember, we are not concerned with how tight the head is right now. We only care how even the tension is. 

Turn the drum over and follow the same procedures to tension the bottom head evenly.

The most important thing is that the sound intensity coming from each rod is the same. Also, the bottom head can be as tight or even tighter when compared to the top head. 

What should snare drums be tuned to?

For a 6.5” snare drum, the pitches G – Bb are what you should listen for (Ab – B for a 5” drum). Use a piano or keyboard percussion instrument to help find your pitch.

Using your drum key, tighten each tension rod ONE EVEN HALF TURN, always working in opposites across the drum until you come near the pitch. Make sure your snares and muffler are not on when listening to the pitch of the top head.

How can I make my snare drum sound better?

Fine-tuning the top head will help the drum ring longer and sound better. 

Tap the head very near the rim and softly right before each tension rod. Listen for the same pitch at each station. 

If one spot sounds much higher or lower than the other, make a minor adjustment with your drum key. Remember not to over-adjust. 

Turn the lug one-quarter turn to the right and then listen again. Here is a valuable piece of advice from Benny Greb: Purposefully release the tension of the top two lugs, and you will get a cool sound. 

At this point, you may also want to adjust your snare muffler to make the top head sound a little drier if needed.

How tight should the snare head be?

The most common advice is to tune your resonant head tighter than your batter head. It’s a common mistake to over-tighten snare wire tension. 

This can choke the sound of the snare drum. So the best option is to aim for a medium, not too tight, and not too loose.

How tight should snare wires be?

The golden rule is never to tension your snare wires so tightly. That is because it will result in choking the snare sound. 

You should find a sweet spot that allows them to “sing.” And be sure to mount the snares straight. That will ensure they last longer and respond optimally.

Step 3 – Different drum grips

There are two primary drum grips: the traditional grip and the matched grip. Also, there are three variants of the matched grip—the American grip, the German grip, and the French grip. Each type of grip suits a different style of music. 

We will cover all of them below.

American grip 

This grip became one of the most common ones because of its comfort. You should start with empty hands, and the first thing you should do is make a gun shape with your right hand. 

The thumb and the index finger must be extended like a gun shape. The rest of the fingers must be curled into your palm, and the back of the hand must be facing upward when playing.

The next step is to pick up the sticks and place or grip it between the thumb and the index finger’s first joint (Balance Point), approximately one-third of the distance from the butt end of the stick. 

Close the other fingers loosely around the stick. Place the thumb on the side of the stick but don’t put too much pressure on it.

Then, place your sticks on the snare drum, and try to make a 45-degree angle with the back of your hand. This is what is called the American Grip.

The last piece of advice is to make sure you have the right balance point since you need to get the maximum rebounds off the snare.

French grip

The French grip brings the sticks together, so they are almost parallel. In the other two grips, the palms face downward. 

But in the french grip, the thumb and the palm faces a short side upwards. It is well-known that not much power comes from holding the sticks with this kind of grip, so you should only use it with a fast tempo.

German grip

With a german grip, palms face down, and the sticks protrude from the side. It is designed to support wrist playing. Very similar to the American grip that arose as a slight deviation from the German.

The downside of the German grip is in the movement that is left and right rather than up and down like in American. 

Also, some drummers consider the stick should be fully in hand, and the palms should be in a more natural position. That’s why the American grip was developed.

Traditional grip

The traditional grip is asymmetrical. Because of that, we will cover both hands separately.

Right hand:

Grab the stick between the thumb and the index finger’s first joint, one-third of the distance from the butt end of the stick.

Left hand:

  1. Hold the stick with your hand upside down, palm side up, and place it in the socket between the thumb and index finger (one-third of the distance from the butt end of the stick). The pad of your thumb must rest on the index finger’s first joint.
  2. The default position is where the stick rests across the middle finger on the top side.
  3. Now rest the stick on the top(cuticle or the outer layer) of the ring finger.
  4. The little finger can support the ring finger.

Step 4 – Practice wrist and finger control

It isn’t foolish to say that practice makes perfect. Before you start playing snare drum better, you will need to practice wrist and finger control. 

There are a lot of exercises out there that will help you increase your wrist and finger strength. Also, it’s not only about strength. The flexibility of your wrists plays a significant role. 

This is because a flexible wrist has a more extensive range of motion, and therefore it can produce more power. Besides this, you also need to perfect the control of your fingers.

How can I increase my wrist and finger strength?

Since there is a wide variety of exercises to choose from, we will only give and fully explain one for both of them. 

You can do this exercise for fingers while watching or listening to your favorite music. The only thing you need is the object to squeeze, and that can either be a metal grip strengthener, squeeze ball, tennis ball, or even a bag of rice.

It would be best if you aimed to squeeze for at least 10 seconds and do it as often as possible. 

This is the best way to build your endurance fast. Don’t be surprised when the bag of rice beats you after only a couple of minutes.

For the wrist, you can perform simple weighted flexion and extension. Anything from small weights to balls can be used as a weight. 

Aim for at least 12-15 repetitions for each arm, and then do it for 3-4 sets with as little rest in between them.

How do I get better finger control on drums?

An excellent exercise for better control of your fingers would be to perform single stroke rolls with different tempos, using a french grip. 

Also, it would help if you only practiced with your thumb and index finger, and the rest of your fingers should not touch the stick. 

After mastering to play with only the thumb and index finger, you can gradually start adding the rest of the fingers.

To keep or improve your finger dexterity, you should regularly stretch your fingers, wrist, forearm, and shoulder. 

You can stretch your fingers easily by extending them as far as possible. Regular extension of the wrist and forearm will help as well. 

Maybe the best way to keep your shoulders flexible and mobile is to swim at least two or three times a week.

How do drummers make their wrists flexible?

The best way to keep your wrists flexible is to stick to a daily exercise stretching plan. More often than not, these exercises are easy to perform, and they don’t need any special gear whatsoever.

The most important thing is not to overcomplicate. It would be best to stick to pronation, supination, flexion, and extension. 

You should primarily focus on the extension. A simple extension exercise would be to pull your fingers with another hand towards the outer part of your forearm.

Step 5 – Ghost notes

Ghost notes are musical notes with a rhythmic value but no discernible pitch when played. 

This can sound confusing, so we will define it as notes played very softly between the main notes. 

More often than not, they are unnoticed by the listeners because they require extraordinary listening abilities.

In the world of music, they are also known by the names “false notes,” “dead notes,” and “muted notes.”

What is a ghost note on a snare drum?

Ghost notes on a snare drum are the same as on any other drum. They are very soft notes with no actual “attack,” as we said before.

You can learn how to play ghost notes on a snare drum by starting to practice playing at a lower volume.

Why do drummers use ghost notes?

The reason why they are essential is that they create color and texture in the groove. Also, they are often used to create more complex drum beats and contrast in drumming.

These notes are used in various arrangements, and you can hear them in the works of different drummers across almost all genres.

How do you improve ghost notes on drums?

Some simple tricks will help you improve ghost notes on your drum. 

You should first play the beats with various ghost notes and work on them until you perfect them or feel comfortable. 

Here is a list of valuable tips and tricks:

  • Start with some paradiddles and practice the ghost notes with both hands.
  • Practice groove patterns on the hi-hat with a hand-to-hand sixteenth-note in a short and repetitive rhythmic pattern as the right hand play the backbeats.
  • Play the same patterns with your right hand on the hi-hat and snare while your left hand gently strikes the snare.
  • If you want to make sure you are doing it right, record yourself playing.
  • It can also be helpful if you play in front of the mirror so you can see your drumstick’s height while practicing.

Step 6 – Dynamics on drums

To understand drum dynamics, we need to define it first. Dynamics refers to how hard or soft you hit each drum or cymbal and how loud or quiet you play overall.

Drummers need to have full control over the volume of each limb.

It is well-known that this element of playing can make or break a song. By having and understanding the dynamics, you have a huge sound toolkit at your disposal.

Here are the benefits of drum set dynamics:

  • You can play the same beat in countless different ways.
  • Your stockpile of fills will take on a whole new life.
  • You can make elementary patterns sound a lot more complex and interesting.
  • You will be able to blend your drum volume perfectly with other instruments.
  • Quiet sections will seem more intimate, and louder sections will pop out much more.

Do drums need dynamics?

Playing with dynamics is necessary if you aim to make your drumming more attractive to your listeners. 

Also, it is crucial to adjust the volume of your drumming to match the overall volume of the music you are playing.

How do you practice dynamics on drums?

To truly master dynamics, I suggest practicing at a really slow tempo. You should start practicing playing rudiments with only one accented note at 50 BPM.

A single paradiddle (RLRR LRLL) is an excellent option for starters. 

It has eight notes, and you should learn to play it with only one accented note. Start with accenting the first one, then move to the second, third, etc.

Step 7 – Snare drum rolls

The snare drum roll is created by playing alternating strokes R L R L etc. It is a technique used to produce a sustained sound for the duration of a written note.

Snare drum rolls come in groups of notes, for instance, 5, 7, and 9. Usually, you start with your right and then follow up with your left hand. If you accent the last note, they become significant for mastering dynamics. 

If there is too much pressure, the buzz will be too short or nonexistent, and if there isn’t enough pressure, it will be too open sounding.

How do you drum roll a snare drum?

To do a drum roll on a snare drum, you need to follow simple steps.

Here we will show you how to perform a single stroke roll:

  1. Find a balancing(Fulcrum point) to figure out where to grip your drumstick. 
  2. Test the bounce back for your grip placement. 
  3. Alternate single drumstick bounces slowly.
  4. Speed up the drumstick bounces as you feel more comfortable.

Basic drum rolls

Here are some of the most common types of drum rolls:

  1. Single-stroke roll: Also known as a closed roll, snare drum roll, or concert roll. Repeatedly alternate the right hand (R) and left hand (L) in time with the beat. RLRL. Repeat.
  2. Double-stroke roll: Also known as an open roll. Play two single strokes on each hand. RRLL. Repeat
  3. Buzz roll: Also known as a press roll or multiple bounce roll. Buzz rolls require a different grip and fulcrum point, which is where you place your hands and fingers on your drum sticks. Generally, a buzz roll is executed with a tighter grip between the index finger and thumb. Buzz rolls are single-strokes played in rapid succession. RRRRRRRRLLLLLLLL. Repeat.

How can I improve my drum rolls?

Consistency is the key. 

To improve your drum rolls, you need to practice them regularly. 

Also, it would help if you learned to hold your drumsticks properly and train both your dominant and non-dominant hand. 

When you get more comfortable with your rolls, you should aim to increase your speed. After achieving the desired speed, move to the more complex rudiments and rhythms. 

How to drum roll fast

To make your drum roll faster, you need to relax your muscles. 

When you get used to applying pressure with relaxed muscles, you can gradually speed up your strokes on the drum.

Wrap up

We have covered everything from learning how to set up your snare drum, snare drum tunning, different drum grips, practice, ghost notes, and snare drum dynamics to the snare drum rolls.

Your musical journey is like any other. It requires patience, consistency, and a certain amount of dedication.

Don’t get discouraged if you fail at something at first. With regular practice, you can only get better.

Should you practice drums with a metronome?

You should use a metronome for drumming to help you slow down difficult passages while keeping the pace consistent. 

This enables you to work through challenging bars without making mistakes. It will also gradually increase the speed as you become more familiar with it.

How do you practice drums with a metronome?

You should start slow and make sure to play the phrase, rudiment, or beat perfectly. 

This way, you do not have any technical limitations keeping you from playing the phrase perfectly.

Here are some general guidelines to follow when practicing with a metronome:

  1. Isolate the problem measures (no more than 2-4 measures at a time).
  2. Find the tempo where you can play these measures perfectly. This might be much slower than performance speed, and that is okay!
  3. Once you have played through your practice passage three times perfectly, increase the tempo by four bpm (beats per minute).
  4. Repeat step three, gradually increasing the tempo. If you make a mistake, slow the tempo back down by two bpm.
  5. Once you have reached the performance tempo, turn the metronome off.
  6. Play through the passage without the metronome.
  7. Turn the metronome back on.