on snare throw-offs

Snare drums get their name from the cables running beneath the resonant head, which themselves are called snares. These are controlled in an “on/off” fashion by what is called a throw-off, determines whether or not the snares are touching the resonant head. When touching, the classic snare sound is created. When not, the drum takes on the sound of shallow, tightly tuned tom. Which can be cool! Turning the snares off can be a very cool aesthetic choice.

When writing a part that demands the status of the snares be changed, it’s important to check that there is time for the adjustment to be made. It takes a free hand to toggle a throw-off, so making the change while playing continuously is not possible. Below is an example of an impossible adjustment:


However, if you wanna get a little crazy, a snare adjustment can be written into the part of a player not playing the snare drum. I’ve done this a few times as a performer, mainly in orchestra settings. For the above examples, one could make a note that Percussion 2 (or 3, 4, whoever’s playing) walks over to the snare player and executes the change on the downbeat.

If the buddy-system solution is not possible, you’ll need to adjust the writing. Below is one possible solution:

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By changing the last beat of the first bar to eighth notes, the player could have one free hand for the whole count, which could get in position and then toggle the snares right after the and of beat 4 before returning to the continuous notes.

A note on large setups:

Some pieces require a snare drum amongst a million other things. If the snares ever need to be adjusted in the piece, it’s important that the snare drum can live in a place where the throw-off is reachable for the player!