The Snare Drum
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The modern orchestral percussion section can vary from a few standard instruments to a whole arsenal, depending on the demands of the music. Percussion instruments made their way into the orchestra relatively late, as references to European military music or, for a more exotic flavor, in imitation of the Ottoman janissary bands which terrorized Europe for centuries. The most standard percussion instruments today are the timpani, the xylophone or marimba, the cymbals, the gong or tam-tam, and the snare or side drum.
A snare drum is a military-style side drum with strings (wire, gut, or wire-covered silk) stretched across its lower head. Unlike the timpani, the snare drum is of indefinite pitch. The foundation of side-drumming is the “roll,” with patterns such as the “paradiddle,” and embellishments as the “flam,” “drag” and “ruff.” The association of the drum and fife, first recorded in 1332, continued for many centuries, as important to the foot regiment as the trumpets and kettledrums were to the cavalry. By the 19th century, composers made increasing use of the side drum in the orchestra.
Source: The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music, edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.,  ISBN 0-333-43236-3