Arguably, percussion instruments are the most versatile, as they can be used in just about any genre. Out of all percussion instruments, the snare drum adapts best. Subsequently, several distinct types of snare drum music exist, including small band, marching, orchestra and concert band, solo and small ensemble.
One type of snare drum music is small band. This music can fall under categories such as rock, pop or even jazz. In this capacity, the snare drum is part of a larger drumset. The drummer uses the snare drum to create a backbeat pattern that is part of the larger rhythm the drumset plays.
Some snare drum music is designed for marching. Often, the snare drum provides the same role in marching music as it does in small band music, providing a foundation for the rhythmic pattern of the music. Marching snare music can be much more complex, however, because the drummer can focus only on the snare drum instead of the entire set. In fact, marching snare music frequently highlights the technical abilities and showmanship of the drummer, with members of the snare line coordinating both their steps and sticking patterns for visual effect. This is especially true in drum and bugle corps.
The next type of snare drum music is music for concert band or orchestra. Music in these ensembles usually is written so the snare drum adds to the overall sound of the group. For example, the snare can do a traditional roll to "beef up" or guide the intensity of a volume increase, or they can do "hits" to make the accents of the orchestra more effective. An example is in the fourth movement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite "Scheherazade."
In some cases, orchestra and concert band snare music takes on a soloistic role. For example, in the opening of Sergei Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kijé," the music calls for the snare drum to play a solo in a military-like fashion at a low dynamic level. Similarly, the work "Boléro" by Maurice Ravel, requires the snare drum to play the same two measures for the duration of the piece. This requires the drummer to have extreme control, as it is the intensity of the snare drum that guides the orchestra to increase in volume for the entire piece.
Some snare drum music is specifically designed for solo playing. This music is used to show the technique of the drummer and increase skill. Drummers routinely use solo snare drum pieces to audition for orchestra, band and other ensemble positions.
The last type of snare drum music is small ensemble music. This is music orchestrated for several players that does not qualify as small band music. For instance, players could form a snare drum quartet, or the snare player could perform with marimba and tumbadoras (congas). Members of the ensemble do not have to be all percussionists, and this type of music is not limited to a particular genre, although overall it might best be grouped as classical.