Posted in Indefinite-pitched Percussion Repertoire

Snare Drum Pieces

This post is about the compositions with snare drum that I’ve listened to. Each piece includes some of my thoughts, brief analysis and different information that I found. Interestingly, I managed to find some unaccompanied solo works. Beside these, I also added the ensemble and orchestral pieces that contain interesting snare drum sections.

Unaccompanied solo snare drum

Jacques Delecluse – Douze etudes for snare drum (1964)

When searching for snare drum pieces, I certainly didn’t expect to see any unaccompanied solo compositions. This is mostly because I didn’t believe that its ‘mono-timbral nature’ as Baker (2004: 2) terms it, would be capable of producing full solo compositions. Interestingly though, when I listened to Decluse’s etudes, I found that these weren’t just technical, but also contained musicality. As Macarez (n.d.) puts it better, there are “no mindless technical patterns, no measure without artistic sense, but rather expressive dynamics, intelligent phrases…” Even more curious is what Delecluse said: “You also have to internalize the rhythmic melody… You do have to play what’s written and all the details on the page, but they have to represent the rhythmic melody that you’re feeling.” (Knopper, 2014)

This concept of rhythmic melody really intrigued and fascinated me, making me question what I thought my definitions of musical and non-musical were. Thereby, more than showing me the mechanical possibilities of the snare drum, these etudes demonstrated its musical abilities, changing my timbral awareness, so that I began to identify the different phrases, expression, even the cadence-like elements, of the rhythmic melody. Transforming my musical ear, these etudes definitely proved how the snare drum, as well as other percussion in general, is capable of being an unaccompanied solo instrument. This is something which I hope to convey in my future compositions. Lastly, my favorite etude in this sense was Etude No. 8, where I could clearly hear all the phrases with colorful crescendo and decrescendo effects – it’s as if I could perceive the different ‘timbral pitches’:

Warren Benson – Three Dances for Solo Snare Drum (1961)

Beside the etudes, there are other kinds of solo pieces for snare drum that emerged in the mid-20th century. The three dances were in this regard quite interesting to me, especially since I wrote my research post about snare drum’s dance-like character. All three are different in nature – the first is Cretan Dance, second Fox Trot, and the third Fandango. In order to convey the different characteristics of each dance, there are contrasting rhythms, tempo, time signatures – 5/4 and 3/2for Cretan dance, syncopated and dotted figures in 12/8 for Fox Trot, and the excitingly fast Fandango in 3/4. Beside the differentiation by these standard musical elements, the dances also use different parts of the drum – depending on the dance, the center, edge and rim of the drum may be utilized, and there are also effects such as brushing and the drumstick clicking. In this way, the dances creatively and imaginatively showcased even further the colorful potentials of the snare drum’s timbre, through the different dance forms. In the Fox Trot, as well as in one part of Fandango, there are successful instances when the drum produces two sounds simultaneously, creating a duet! This proves how wrong the mono-timbral definition of the snare drum is – it is indeed an instrument capable of more than that.

Michael LaRosa – Second Suite for Solo Snare Drum

Another interesting composition in form. The second movement is particularly engaging. It gives some rhythmic formulas, but the performer chooses which ones to play and in which order – representing the chance genre of music, Aleatoric. I never experimented with this idea before, and have rarely encountered it. I am not sure whether I would dare to try this yet, but I will certainly make a note of it as a potential idea and technique for the future compositions. In the third movement, the duet-like passages appear in a similar way as in Benson’s Fox Trot.

Stuart Saunders Smith – Noble Snare

Ensemble/Chamber Snare Drum
Orchestral Snare Drum


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