Drum Tips, advice on good drums, drumming and taste: 1. Snares buzzing? Pull the lever, turn them off!

snares buzzing

Eliminate snare buzz! “Please release them, let them go….”

Snare strands, crazy things rattle in sympathy.

What a drag, snare buzz. They ought to have a magic lever. You pull it and instantly the noise stops and you gain respect from fellow musicians and listeners.

Guess what? They do. It’s called a snare release, a snare strainer, a lever, a switch—whatever. If you learn to put it to use, it won’t get rusty and you’ll bask in applause.

As far as I can see, speaking my observations of drummers on stage, in rehearsals, and in my teaching, drummers avoid it, the snare stainer lever (“release”, “throw off” etc) like the plague. They set it and leave it. Oh sure, they’ll tighten the fine tuning knob or flick it to and fro to ensure the snares are snug against the bottom head but they’ve all but forgotten the essential fact that a snare drum is but a tom with wire strands. This gives rise to a choice between leaving the wires dangling free of the bottom head or lifting them up—select sizzle or hollow.

Real Life Buzzes & How to Stop Them

Why, if the band introduces a song gently with swirling, phased guitars set against the most nebulous of pulses and the drums are tacet (meaning don’t touch a cymbal or drum), do drummers keep those snares tight until the moment of their grand entrance? They haven’t even played a note and they’re sounding like an auto body shop.

Maybe it’s neglect out of bad taste or tinnitus. Time to return to the roots.

Silence is nice. Silence plus crickets can be nice, unless you’re from the inner city and stuck overnight in a tent in the forest. Silence plus ocean waves—that can be nice, too. But silence plus snares chattering is not nice.

When I was 17 I caught the drummer Leon Chancler, now known as Ndugu, playing with Bobby Hutcherson. Turns out Leon was 17, too. Did he put me in my place, not necessarily due to chops but by his judicious deployment of the snare lever! Often he’d keep it off until the last minute, gradually engaging the wires to bottom head gradually. True, most of the time he’d be in jazz mode, snares tight to allow for those clipped Roy Haynes buzzes. But not when Bobby soloed or the upright bass (forget his name, damn). When that happened, before you knew it, Leon had disengaged the snares deftly. It was a savvy, slick, and almost invisible move—not a commotion like when somebody swats a fly.

For the last decade or so, it’s become fashionable to play 2 and 4 with snares off. Fine. The problem is that usually once the snares go on, they stay on.

And those snares remain in the on position even during break when the folk guitarist and cellist take the stage and do their strumming and bowing. Those snares sing along without rhyme or reason, a cacophonous choir. Annoying as hell, especially if the break happens to be filled by a DJ with subs. Gets those snares buzzing overtime.

It works when you’re pushin’ it right…

Let’s vow something for the new year. Get to know that lever, switch, arm or protrusion and use it for its intended purpose. Learn to push it right, footnote to a track on Phrenology.

Let’s become more concert in our mentality: more Billy Gladstone or more John Bonham. It’s the same mentality, from where I sit. It’s about timbres, tones, measured silence and not anarchical white noise.

It’s about dynamics, timbres, and, hey, respect for others.

Tip of the day: If you don’t need a snare sound, pull them off as a matter of habit.