3. Drum Kit Cymbals

Ride Cymbal

Ride cymbals are usually played in a repetetive rhythm to convey the basic feel and rhythmic subdivision of the music. Ride cymbals come in different sizes, from 18 inches up to 24 inches in diameter, and offer a wide range of tonal properties, as do all cymbals. When choosing a ride cymbal, there are different aspects to its sound that must be considered.

The Sound: The ping is the bright sound of the stick’s impact, which provides definition to your rhythms. The wash is the darker underlying roar that can build up when playing a ride cymbal. The amount of ping and wash should be in proportion to each other for the styles of music you play. If there is too much wash, your cymbal rhythms will lack definition especially at higher volumes and tempos, but if there is too little wash, the cymbal will sound “dry”, or lack the sustain a ride cymbal usually provides. There are many factors that affect a cymbal’s sound but thickness is the crucial variable here. Heavy metal drummers often choose thicker ride cymbals with a lot of ping that can cut through loud music, and jazz drummers often prefer thinner ride cymbals with more wash that sound better when played at lower volumes. Don’t forget to check the ride’s bell. Most ride cymbals have a raised and thicker area in their center called the bell, which when struck produces a more defined, bright and often piercing sound that can easily cut through loud music. Kit drummers often use the bell to imitate the sound of a cowbell pattern for Latin music styles. When evaluating cymbals, ask yourself some questions. Is it easy to get a clear bell sound from the cymbal? What style of music do you primarily play? Does the cymbal sound good at the volume levels you require? Is there enough ping in the sound and is the wash controllable? How does it sound as you crescendo? Is the cymbal’s pitch too high or too low for your needs? When selecting cymbals, it can be very helpful to ask a friend to play the cymbal while you stand a distance away from it to get a better idea how it will sound from the audience’s perspective.

Crash Cymbals

Crash cymbals are often used at the end of drum fills, to play accent patterns or to outline song form transitions, for example when moving from the verse into the chorus. In very heavy styles of music, they can even be played like a ride cymbal for added volume and energy. Crash cymbals can range from 14 inches to 20 inches in diameter.

The Sound: Since crash cymbals are used for mainly for accents, check whether the cymbal can be played loudly enough for your style of music and whether it can also be played as softly as you need. How long does the crash sustain? What is the pitch of the crash? Do you hear how the diameter of cymbal in a model line affects its pitch? Note that higher-pitched and thicker crash cymbals tend to “cut” more through louder music and that thinner crashes react more quickly.

Hi-Hat Cymbals

Hi-hat cymbals are used in a similar fashion to a ride cymbal, to keep time and indicate the underlying pulse of a song. They are sold in pairs that are matched in diameter. The hi-hat cymbals are mounted on a hi-hat stand, which uses a foot pedal that moves the top cymbal up and down. By playing rhythms on the hi-hats and varying the pedal position you can create a wide variety of sounds from your hi-hats. They can be also be played with just the pedal to create either a “chick” sound or a “splash” sound. Drummers often play supporting rhythms with the hi-hat pedal while they play their ride cymbal. Hi Hat cymbals commonly range from 10 inches to 15 inches in diameter.

The Sound: Hi-hat cymbals should have a clearly defined chick sound when played with the pedal. You should choose a pair of hi-hats that complement the tone of your ride. 14-inch diameter hi-hats are the most commonly used size, but smaller hi-hats (13 inches and smaller) are also available and tend to have a higher pitch, respond quicker and produce lower volume than larger hi-hats. Be sure to check that the cymbals work well within the volume range of your playing.

Splash Cymbals

Splash cymbals are smaller versions of crash cymbals with much shorter sustain. Since they are small they can be used to play quick accented patterns. They are used frequently in Dixieland jazz and many other styles of music and commonly range from 6 to 12 inches in diameter.

The Sound: Splash cymbals offer brief bursts of high-pitched sound, very little sustain and lower volume than crash cymbals. Do the splash cymbal’s pitch and overtones match your other cymbals? If the sustain and volume are longer and louder than you’d like, consider a thinner or smaller model. Conversely, if the cymbal has too little sustain, explore thicker or larger models.

Effect Cymbals / China Cymbal

Besides the cymbals mentioned there are also special effect cymbals such as China cymbals, which offer sharp explosions of white noise, cymbals with rivets in them that sizzle as they decay and also gongs, which are really enormous cymbals played with a large mallet.

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