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What Are Ride Cymbals?

Ride cymbals are an integral part of a drum set, providing a steady, rhythmic pulse that anchors a song's beat. With their shimmering sustain and defined ping, they create a sonic landscape for drummers to explore different textures and dynamics. Discover how the right ride can elevate your drumming experience—what will it add to your musical journey?
Greg Brian
Greg Brian

A ride cymbal is a cymbal that is part of a drum set and has a sustained sound when struck. The reason it's called a ride cymbal is because drummers typically use it to "ride" with the music or use it for a maintained rhythmic pattern. The thickness of these cymbals will determine the different sounds it can make. Where the drummer places the ride cymbal depends on what is comfortable and his or her specific style. Certain types of ride cymbals are available depending on what kind of music styles played and the performing venue.

Ride cymbals should be distinguished from another common type of cymbal called a crash cymbal. Unlike a crash cymbal that makes a more accented sound, the ride cymbal is used for a softer sound while providing continuous rhythm backup in a band or small combination of instruments. Hi-hat cymbals that are played with a pedal are usually used in conjunction with ride cymbals to provide the steady rhythmic accompaniment.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

Different degrees of sound can be made with ride cymbals, depending on the thickness of them. Those that are thinner give more of a shimmering sound for smaller venues, and those that are thicker give more of an accented sound for larger venues. Standard widths are 18 to 22 inches (46 to 56 cm). The larger models can produce the loudest sounds.

It is customary for a ride cymbal to be placed on the drummer’s right, slightly behind the floor tom. For a drummer who is left-handed, it might be better for the ride cymbal to be placed on the left. Overall, anywhere the drummer’s dominant hand can easily reach it is the best. No set rules exist on where it needs to be placed, because using a ride cymbal properly goes strictly by personal comfort and style.

A rock drummer should consider buying industry standard ride cymbals. The most popular are ones made of medium to thin weight. These provide more power in the cymbal’s sound for rock concerts. Many popular brands exist and have different variations available that create more of a "ping," or a sharper sound, when they are struck.

More expensive ride cymbals are made from higher-quality materials. Many rock drummers prefer these because of the louder sounds that they provide. A flat ride cymbal is a popular choice with jazz drummers because of its quietness, which is because it has no bell in the center of the cymbal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary function of a ride cymbal in a drum set?

The primary function of a ride cymbal is to maintain a steady rhythmic pattern, often referred to as a "ride pattern," within a piece of music. It serves as a metronomic device, providing a consistent tempo and adding texture to the overall sound. The ride cymbal is typically used in jazz, rock, and other music genres to keep time in a more subtle manner than the hi-hat or the crash cymbal.

How does the size of a ride cymbal affect its sound?

The size of a ride cymbal greatly influences its sound characteristics. Larger ride cymbals, generally ranging from 20 to 26 inches, produce lower-pitched, warmer tones with longer sustain. They are often favored in jazz settings. Smaller ride cymbals, around 18 to 20 inches, have a higher pitch and a more defined "ping" sound, making them suitable for rock or pop music where clarity is essential.

What are the different playing techniques used on ride cymbals?

Several playing techniques can be employed on ride cymbals to create a variety of sounds. The most common technique is striking the cymbal with the tip of the drumstick for a clear, defined sound. Drummers may also use the shoulder of the stick for a louder, washier sound. Other techniques include playing on the bell for a piercing, high-pitched tone or using mallets for a softer, more ambient effect.

Can ride cymbals be used for other purposes besides keeping time?

Yes, ride cymbals can be used for purposes other than keeping time. They can be crashed with the shoulder of the drumstick to accentuate certain parts of the music, similar to a crash cymbal. Additionally, they can be used for creating swells and crescendos with mallets or brushes, contributing to the dynamic range and expression within a performance.

What should I consider when choosing a ride cymbal for my drum kit?

When choosing a ride cymbal, consider the musical context in which it will be used. Think about the desired sound, whether it's a bright ping for rock or a dark wash for jazz. The size and weight of the cymbal are crucial, as they determine pitch and volume. Also, take into account the cymbal's material and finish, as these can affect the tone and sustain. It's important to try out different cymbals to find the one that best suits your playing style and the sound you're aiming for.

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Discussion Comments


I remember hearing a rumor that Keith Moon, the drummer for the Who, only used ride cymbals in his usual drum set-up. I watched some old footage of a Who concert and it looked like he had three or four ride cymbals and no crash cymbals. But I later found a site that had Moon's drum arrangements on a map and it showed at least two crash cymbals and only two ride cymbals. So I guess he really did use crash cymbals after all. Can ride cymbals actually be used as crash cymbals anyway? I'd think they'd be too heavy.

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