What Are The Differences Between Snare Drums & Tablas?

In the world of percussion instruments, you may come across drums with strikingly different use cases and designs. Two examples of these are the tabla and the snare drums.

What are the differences between Snare Drums and Tablas? The differences are as follows:

  • The tablas have a different drumhead and shell design than snare drums.
  • The tablas are able to convey a wider range of sounds than the snares.
  • Snare drums require beaters. The tablas are played with the hands.

In this article, we'll be reviewing these distinctions between snare drums and tablas. However, to get acquainted with each, let's dive into their backgrounds.

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The Backgrounds Of Snare Drums And Tablas

The drum is one of the most ancient instruments in the world, going back to ancient China and the regions of Egypt and Mesopotamia. For a long time, drums have been a recurrent item worldwide, just as knives or other categories of omnipresent items. However, some drums are older than others and come equipped with features that are not often found in any other drum type.

The Background Of Snare Drums

The earliest snare drums on record were the tabor, an instrument that, during medieval times, accompanied armies and dancers. Judging from medieval paintings, its earliest models had one or more snares across the batter head.

The Basel drum, created in the Swiss city under the same name, was a larger and more refined version of this tabor and, from the 16th century on, had its snares installed at the bottom. These drums would make their way into classical music, and many composers would utilize them to convey a militaristic aura.

In America, it played a huge role in the American civil war, but also in the vaudeville and Dixieland movements that ensued afterwards. The snare drum was likewise key in the development of the modern drum kit.

The Background Of Tablas

The tablas originate from North India and are representative of one of the most ancient musical traditions in the world, spanning a period of 5,000 years. Originally, this instrument was a two-headed drum with a single barrel-shaped shell under the name of pakhawaj.

This pakhawaj would accompany singers, as well as wind and string instruments. Legend has it that this instrument was chopped in half with a sword by an angry drummer called Sidar Khan during a competition, which purportedly gave rise to the modern tablas, composed of two separate drums with one drumhead each.

Regardless of the veracity of this legend, it's undisputed that the tablas, as they're known to this day, were created around 1738 by Amir Khusru in an attempt to devise a melodic drum that could be utilized in the Khayal, a new style that arose during that period.

What Are The Differences Between Snare Drums And Tablas?

Now, we'll go over the differences between snare drums and tablas exposed earlier:

Difference 1: Design

Regarding the design, I affirmed that:

“The tablas have a different drumhead and shell design than snare drums.”

Still, the distinctions in design hardly stop there. Further differences can be found in the tuning mechanism and the sizes of each instrument. Let's begin with the drumhead:

A cursory examination of the tablas' drumheads shows the presence of different areas coexisting:

  • The “Keenar”: The outer ring.
  • The “Lao”, “Lava”, or “Maidan”: The narrower intermediary ring that stands between the “Syahi” and the “Keenar”.
  • The “Syahi” or “Karani”: The dark, circular center of the drumhead.

The outer rings are made of two layers of goatskin, with the bottom layer stretching across the whole drum. Meanwhile, the Syahi results from a mixture of charcoal powder, iron fillings, gum, and soot.

On the flip side, the snare drum has a single layer or film composed of plastics such as polyester or Mylar. Occasionally, albeit not frequently, one could find snare drumheads made of animal skin.

When assessing the shells, the dayan (the smaller drum) retains a barrel shape, and the dagga (the larger drum) has a more oval appearance. Moreover, these shells are made mostly of metal (copper, brass, or steel), but clay and wood may also be utilized.

On the other hand, the snare drum has a cylindrical shell made mainly of metal (e.g., steel, aluminum, brass, etc.) or wood (e.g., birch, oak, maple, etc.)

In the tablas, you'll also notice a complex rope-like system made of “Baar”, a thick leather band woven around the tabla and tasked with tuning the instrument by controlling the tension of its drumhead.

Meanwhile, the snare drum manages its tuning through metal tension rods distributed across the hoop, keeping the head in place.

Two features distinguish the snare drum from the tablas and many other membranophones: The snare wires and the air hole.

The snare wires are located near the bottom head or “snare head” and are responsible for the peculiar sound profile of the instrument. The “air hole” helps disperse some of the energy accrued from inside the shell as the batter head is struck.

Difference 2: Sound

Next, I outlined the following:

“The tablas are able to convey a wider range of sounds than the snares.”

While the snare drum is not devoid of variety and nuance when it comes to sound production, it doesn't stray from the middle and higher range of the frequency.

In the interim, the tablas can produce bass tones with as much relative ease as treble tones, though they may pale in intensity when compared to the snare drum, which can cut through the mix far better.

On a slightly related note, the tablas carry a much warmer sound with a marked emphasis on pitch. Conversely, the snare drum's general sound is sharper and less melodic in nature. It also renders a slight buzz at the end, courtesy of the snare wires.

Difference 3: Playing Method

Lastly, I made the following assertion:

“Snare drums require beaters. The tablas are played with the hands.”

There's not much to elaborate on this subject. Snare drums are designed to be played with beaters and are highly uncomfortable to operate with the hands. You'll be capable of performing various stroke techniques with drumsticks, such as the “cross stick” and the “rim shot”.

Meanwhile, the tablas are played exclusively with the hands. Not only that, but they are played using highly specific hand movements across the head of both the dayan (responsible for the treble beats) and the baya (producing bass).

Moreover, the tablas' strokes are associated with certain syllables that engender a language specific to the instrument. It's often the case that tabla players would emit these sounds with their mouths as they strike and use the written syllables as guides instead of traditional sheet music.

Read How Snare Drums Compare To Other Instruments

Read How Tablas Compare To Other Instruments

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and the author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or producing music. For more info, please check out his YouTube channel and his music.

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