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What are Different Types of Cymbals?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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.

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Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Jun 10, 2012

@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.

By jcraig — On Jun 10, 2012

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.

By TreeMan — On Jun 09, 2012

@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.

By JimmyT — On Jun 08, 2012

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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