Tenor Playing Compared to Snare Playing in an Individual Competition Setting

As I wrote in the previous article, there should be no difference in technique for your approach to snare drum or tenors. Especially on sweep passages, the ability to control the second note of a diddle will reap tremendous benefits. With any rudiment, the interior non-accented beats must be clearly played. Otherwise it will sound muddled.


With a snare drum, it is much easier to hear when the interior notes of a passage aren't played confidently since they are on the same surface. A double stroke roll is a perfect example. On a snare drum, it is very obvious if the player drops the second note of a diddle. Or with accented triplets, it's very obvious if the player isn't making enough contrast between the accented and non-accented notes. Tenors tend to hide these mistakes more. Since they follow a more melodic line, rolls down the drums or sweeps tend to cover up weaker secondary notes. With accented triplets, if the player plays the accented note on one drum and the interior notes on another, it becomes much more difficult to detect the change in intensity, since there is already a change in pitch. A good judge can still detect this. That's why it's always good to exaggerate the accents as much as possible--even on soft passages. This will leave no doubt in the judge's mind that you have control of your playing. Even a poor judge will usually be able to pick up on the difference, though he may not be able to pinpoint exactly what that difference is.

Also, with tenors, many players rely on the extra momentum gained in moving from drum to drum to bring out the accents. Back to the accented triplet example, the added lateral motion helps to gain intensity for the accents. I have found that if I practice for a long time on tenors, my snare endurance decreases slightly, due to the fact that I have become used to the extra momentum gained from the side-to-side motion, instead of relying solely on the vertical motion provided from arms, wrists, and fingers.

While these are some of the "negative" things about tenors, the most obvious plus is that you can take any snare passage and make it more difficult on tenors by assigning each note to a different drum. (Of course, in some ways that can make it easier, as in the accented triplets example, but with a little creativity you can create a monstrous passage by simply combining paradiddles and difficult crossovers.) One of the biggest plusses about practicing tenors is that it increases your coordination abilities on snare drum--provided that you're not using poor technique and relying on the masking tendencies mentioned above.

In preparing for a tenor competition, it is important to devote a sufficient amount of time to practicing snare drum. This is where your speed and endurance will be improved the most. It will also help you to focus on coordinative problems in accent-to-tap ratio that might otherwise be more difficult to hear when you're moving around the drums. A good rule of thumb is to practice 20 minutes on snare drum per every hour that you practice in preparation for a competition--particularly when warming up.

Of course, as in preparation for a snare competition, you should practice playing through the solo as often as possible and in front of as many people as you can. Tape record or videotape yourself if possible. Focus on your problem areas. Take each count slowly and speed it up until you can play it with ease. Then combine two counts, then three, then four, etc... until you have the entire passage down without any rim clicks or other reoccuring errors. Be honest with yourself in your abilities. If you're continually messing up a passage, and you can't commit the practice time to fix it in time for the contest, it's better to play what you can do well.

If you are practicing for both snare and tenors at the same time, you should devote equal time to both--with perhaps slightly more emphasis on snare drum (since this is where most of your rudimental progress will occur). Focus on utilizing consistent technique for both instruments. There's no point in knocking yourself out by building up endurance on the snare drum and then turning your wrists over when you move to the lower drums on tenors. Strive for the same up and down motion, controlling every note on tenors just as you would on snare. Be very careful of slicing when you go back to snare drum. This is a common problem. That's why it's also important to focus a lot of time on snare drum so that you can prevent sloppy technique that will hinder you on both instruments. (Tenors tend to make it slightly more difficult to assess your technique deficiencies than snare drum.) I know that it's popular to use kevlar for snares now, but I would highly recommend using a mylar head if you're planning to compete on both. This will help you get used to playing on a more consistent surface all the time.

Good luck, and may you have much success in your playing.