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  • Writer's pictureTim Church

How To Tune A Snare Drum: Black Swamp SoundArt Edition

Updated: Mar 5

The SoundArt system was our very first strainer, designed by Eric (BSP Founder) over 20 years ago. Although the look has changed over time, the concept and operation remains the same.

If you've recently purchased a SoundArt snare drum or find yourself using one regularly with your school band or orchestra, it will be beneficial for you to learn how to properly tune the drum and maximize the sound of your SoundArt strainer system.


A Brief History of the SoundArt Snare System

pre 2020 SoundArt strainer system
Pre 2020 SoundArt Strainer System

So where did it all begin?

In 1999 Black Swamp introduced the SoundArt Snare System, the first trio and duo integrated cable snare system - an old concept of separate tension, but done right! Before the design of this original strainer system, we started with individual retrofit cable snare units, which we still manufacture today. Eric then had the genius idea to take the different cable types from these retrofit units and integrate them into a single strainer. Thus, the SoundArt snare system was born!

SoundArt Strainer Concept

SoundArt snare drum cable snare options
SoundArt cable snares

The three contrasting cable types on the SoundArt Strainer can be individually adjusted to dial in the optimal tension and response at its corresponding dynamic.

For instance, the Blue Coated cable (Model: 8BSA) responds best at louder dynamics, has a dry, throaty timbre and can be tensioned tighter than the other two units.

The Uncoated Stainless steel cable (Model: 8SSA) responds best at medium dynamics with a medium tension, and has a brighter, wetter sound.

The Guitar Wire Wound unit (Model: 5WSA) can be tensioned the loosest for ideal response at softer dynamics, adding clarity and a unique texture.

From there, all three units are engaged simultaneously for a consistent and high quality orchestral sound, with a wide dynamic range.

The New & Improved, Arch SoundArt System

Post 2020 SoundArt Strainer System Featuring the Arch Throwoff
Post 2020 SoundArt Strainer System Featuring the Arch Throwoff

The newest implementation of the SoundArt strainer features our Arch Throwoff. This system uses a robust and stylish strainer that matches the look and feel of our Arch Tube Lugs, featured on most SoundArt snare drums. The Arch Throw combined into the SoundArt trio system gives one additional feature: a master tuning knob. This allows the user to quickly tension all three cables at the same time.

Tuning Your Drum Heads

When it comes to tuning snare drums, it's helpful to approach them with the mindset of tuning little timpani. Just as with timpani, it's crucial to ensure that the drum heads are clear before making any adjustments. Clearing a drum head means evenly tensioning all the tension rods across the lugs around the drum, setting the stage for optimal tuning.

At Black Swamp Percussion, we emphasize the importance of properly seating and tuning the snare side drum head, also known as the resonant head, when installing new heads on a drum.

Seating the resonant head is a critical step in the tuning process. Most concert snare drums feature snare beds on the bottom, or snare side, of the drum. These beds, located near the strainer and butt of the drum, can vary in appearance depending on the make and model of the snare drum.

Seating the resonant head over a snare bed creates a slight bow in the head, ensuring that the cable snares make full contact with the drum head as they pass over the bearing edge. This direct contact enhances response, sensitivity, and the overall quality of sound produced by the instrument.

Once the bottom head is properly seated and tuned to the desired pitch, attention turns to installing and tuning the batter head.

Tuning the batter head requires disengaging any snare wires on the drum's strainer and ensuring the head is cleared by evenly finger tightening the tension rods around the drum. Using two drum keys placed on tension rods directly opposite each other, gradually increase the tension of each rod in a star-shaped pattern to bring the pitch up. Start with smaller tension increments and gradually increase the tension to achieve the desired pitch.

While tuning philosophies may vary among players, at BSP, we prioritize achieving a slightly higher pitch on the resonant side head than the batter side head. This approach results in a full, round, and pure tone from the instrument. Ultimately, tuning is about more than hitting a specific pitch; it's about finding a feeling, a resonance that reverberates in the chest when playing the snare drum.

Once both the top and bottom heads are in tune, it's time to fine-tune the tension of the cable snare wires, completing the tuning process for your SoundArt snare drum.


Finding the Right Tension

When tuning your SoundArt snare drum, it's crucial to understand the relationship between cable tension and dynamic range.

Start by loosening all three units completely, then gradually tighten each cable while playing at different dynamic levels.

Listen closely to how each cable responds and adjust accordingly to achieve your desired sound.

As stated previously, coated cables will respond best at louder dynamics, stainless cables at medium dynamics, and guitar wire units will respond best at quieter dynamics. Starting at one end of the dynamic range is a good practice when dialing in cable snare tension. Take your time with this process and wait to hear each cable activate at its appropriate dynamic level.

Each drum - depending on the diameter, depth, and material of the shell - will have its own unique timbre and "sweet spot" for cable tension. Be sure to listen closely when tensioning each cable to hear when it activates and at what dynamic level the cable speaks most clearly. Ultimately, tuning a snare drum and tuning a SoundArt snare drum comes down to personal preference and what sounds best to your ears. Be sure to follow along with Tim in our YouTube video linked at the top of this article for a step-by-step process.


Wrapping Up How To Tune A Snare Drum

The SoundArt strainer system is very popular with schools, students and professionals searching for an exceptional sound, that’s easy to set and consistent to maintain. The trio cable snare system allows for players to dial in a sound that suits the situation and piece of music. If you are interested in exploring and experimenting with even more sounds on your orchestral snare or concert snare drum considering looking at the Multisonic Snare System. This 5 cable system expands on the innovations of the SoundArt snare drum with even more options for the most discerning of percussionists. You can learn how to tune your Multisonic snare drum in this blog post.

Visit our website to learn more about our SoundArt strainer, which is available on ply-Maple, Brass, Titanium and Unibody solid shells. Also check out our YouTube channel where you can find all sorts of audio and video sound samples for these drums

Happy drumming!


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