Its booming and somber character means that the tenor drum is used mainly to evoke an atmosphere of war. This corresponds with the function of its predecessor, the side or lansquenet drum. For this reason the tenor drum often partners the brass, especially when these are playing fortissimo passages.
The tenor drum covers more or less the tenor register within the orchestra percussion section, while the snare drum corresponds to the treble, the bass drum to the bass register. In this combination the tenor drum mostly performs rolls, while the snare drum plays rhythmic figures and the bass drum provides the underlying beat. Besides the heightening of tension that the tenor drum’s rolls provide they also lend the bass drum’s single strokes a certain rolling quality.
The drum group is often complemented by the timpani.
Timpani + tenor drum rolls produce an intense booming effect that can be further reinforced and extended upward by the snare drum.