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What are Different Types of Cymbals?

Cymbals are the shimmering backbone of a drum set, each type crafted to produce a distinct sound. From the explosive crash to the steady ride, the sharp hi-hat to the exotic splash and china, cymbals shape the music's dynamics. Curious about how each cymbal can change the beat of a song? Let's dive deeper into their unique sonic signatures.
Shannon Kietzman
Shannon Kietzman

There are many different types of cymbals, and each has its own unique sound and purpose. When used in an orchestra, there are two primary type: crash cymbals and suspended cymbals.

Crash cymbals are usually used two at a time. When used in this way, they are also referred to as clash cymbals. Whether the crash cymbals are used alone or in pairs, they are held with a strap attached to the back.

Drum cymbals should be chosen based on how they fit in with the rest of the kit.
Drum cymbals should be chosen based on how they fit in with the rest of the kit.

Contrary to their name, these types of cymbals are not crashed or clashed together in order to make sound. Rather, they are slid across each other in order to cause the edges to rub against one another. Using this simple movement, a wide range of sounds can be produced from the cymbals.

As one would suspect, suspended cymbals are suspended in the air when in use. Generally, a simple rope or leather strap is used to hang them. This allows the cymbals to vibrate without obstruction.

In order to play suspended cymbals, a special mallet is used to strike them in specific areas. In this way, they can be played quietly or used to make sharp and piercing sounds. Sometimes, drumsticks are also used to hit the edge of the cymbals in order to create a sound similar to what is produced with crash cymbals.

Cymbals are also found on drum kits. As with an orchestra, modern drum kits contain crash cymbals as well as high hat cymbals. The crash cymbals found on drum kits are an adaptation of suspended cymbals. Rather than being suspended in the air, however, these types of cymbals are placed in a horizontal position on the drum kit. In this case, the drummer strikes the cymbals with a drumstick in order to produce the desired sound. In some styles of music, the cymbals may also be rubbed with special brushes or other objects in order to create a wispy sound.

High hat cymbals are placed on a stand when included in a drum kit. A pedal is located at the bottom of the stand that allows the drummer to operate the cymbals. Using his or her foot, the drummer can cause the cymbals to be shut or open. The repetitive opening and closing may be used to create certain sounds. Similarly, the drummer may hit the high hat cymbals while they are either closed or open in order to create specific musical notes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of cymbals used in a standard drum kit?

The main types of cymbals typically found in a standard drum kit include hi-hats, which consist of two cymbals mounted together and played with a foot pedal or sticks; crash cymbals, which produce a loud, sharp sound and are used for accents; ride cymbals, which have a sustained, shimmering sound for keeping rhythm; and splash cymbals, which are smaller and give a quick, splashy accent. Each type serves a distinct purpose in a drummer's setup.

How do I choose the right cymbal for my music style?

Choosing the right cymbal for your music style involves considering the sound and dynamics you need. For rock or heavy music, thicker and larger cymbals that produce louder volumes are preferable. Jazz drummers often opt for thinner, smaller cymbals for a softer, more nuanced sound. It's also important to think about the blend with other instruments in your band and the venues where you'll be playing. Trying out different cymbals and listening to recordings can help you decide.

Can you explain the difference between a ride cymbal and a crash cymbal?

A ride cymbal is larger, usually ranging from 18 to 22 inches, and is designed for playing steady rhythmic patterns. It has a clear, defined ping sound over a subtle wash. In contrast, a crash cymbal is generally smaller, between 14 to 18 inches, and is used for accentuating parts of the music with a loud, explosive sound. The crash is struck with more force to create a burst of sound, while the ride is played with a more consistent stick pattern.

What is the significance of cymbal alloys, and how do they affect the sound?

Cymbal alloys significantly affect the sound and performance of the cymbal. The most common alloys are brass, bronze, and B20 bronze (which contains 80% copper and 20% tin). Brass cymbals are typically more economical and produce a brighter, less complex sound. Bronze cymbals offer a richer, warmer tone. B20 bronze is considered the highest quality, used in professional cymbals for its complex and musical sound, with a balance of brightness and darkness.

How should I maintain my cymbals to ensure their longevity and sound quality?

To maintain your cymbals, handle them with clean hands to avoid oils and dirt buildup. Regularly wipe them with a soft, dry cloth to remove fingerprints and dust. For deeper cleaning, use a cymbal-specific cleaner and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Avoid using abrasive materials that can scratch the surface. Store your cymbals in a cymbal bag or case when not in use to protect them from damage. Never overtighten them on stands, as this can cause cracks.

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Discussion Comments

Izzy78

@jcraig - There are no specific names for any other types of cymbals. Most cymbals are just sold based on diameter or special names that the different manufacturers give their products. For example, one company just calls their cymbals by letter like A through Z. There are a lot of different variations, though, since the exact diameter and shape of the cymbal will affect its sound.

On that note, the making of cymbals is really interesting. I would suggest trying to find a video of it online. I would assume that some of the discount cymbals are made by machines, but the best ones are handmade.

Basically, they start with a round piece of bronze and put it on a special lathe. The craftsman uses special tools to thin the cymbal down to the right thickness and diameter. After that, a special machine trims up the edges and polishes it. If you ever take a close look at a cymbal, they also have a lot of dimples in them that help improve the tone.

jcraig

Are there specific names for the different types of cymbals? I just went to a band concert at our local college, and started wondering about this. I guess I now know that what they were playing were called suspended cymbals. Each of the students had a specific cymbal or two that they were responsible for playing. I am just wondering if, besides the high hat, there are special names for the cymbals. I'd also be interested to know if anyone can tell me how cymbals are made.

I was also unaware until I went to that concert that the crash cymbals were played by sliding the cymbals past each other. I figure that I was like most people and thought they were played like you see in the cartoons and such.

TreeMan

@JimmyT - A cymbal ride is whenever you continually hit the cymbal to a certain beat. Since you mentioned playing pep band music, that is probably what they are talking about. Doing a cymbal ride is common in popular music, since it is a way to keep the beat alongside the snare and bass drums.

You may also hear people talk about a ride cymbal, which is just a broad name for a lot of cymbals that can be "ridden." All of the regular cymbals around a drum set could fall into the class of being a ride cymbal.

As far as suspended cymbals go, you are correct that the ones that sit on the stands are considered suspended cymbals. I assume they were historically suspended in the air, but by putting them in the stand, it keeps them much more stable and easy to hit.

JimmyT

I am in the school band, and a lot of the drummers are always talking about a cymbal ride. Does anyone have any idea what this means? We play a lot of different types of music, but it is mostly pep band music and songs for marching band if that helps at all.

The other thing I was wondering is what exactly suspended cymbals are. I have never seen any that actually hang from anything. I know what the crash cymbals are and understand how they work. The only other kind of cymbals I know of usually sit on a metal post and are fastened on horizontally. Once they are on the stand, they can hit them and make different sounds. Is this just a different type of suspended cymbal?

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    • Drum cymbals should be chosen based on how they fit in with the rest of the kit.
      By: Pavel Losevsky
      Drum cymbals should be chosen based on how they fit in with the rest of the kit.