The cymbal is a popular percussion instrument. Made of thin, usually-round plates of metal, they are often used in pairs to produce sound. They are used in a wide-variety of music types. Orchestras, rock bands, jazz artists, heavy metal groups, and even marching bands use them.
The History of Cymbals
Based on numerous references in paintings and artifacts from ancient cultures like ancient Rome, ancient Greece, Babylon, or ancient Egypt, we know that cymbals were used in music for a very long time. Even the Bible often refers to them in Psalms and God-praising songs.
Turkish Janissaries played them as early as the 14th century. European musicians incorporated them in their music around the 17th century, and they became a popular instrument among military orchestras a century later. For the last 300 years, their importance grew in all varieties of music around the world.
Musicians designed different types of this instrument, changing the shapes and parameters. Also different ways to play them have evolved over time. Thanks to this, they are a very versatile percussion instrument used by all types of musicians today.
The way this instrument is constructed makes all the difference in the way it sounds. It usually is a metal plate, with a central hole used either to install it on a stand, or to attach a strap to it when played by hand.
A raised central section of the plate is typically shaped like a bell. Hitting this part makes a sound of a higher pitch and shorter sustain than hitting the outer part, called the bow. The bow can be further divided into ride and crash areas. The thicker part around the bell is the ride area, while the crash part is thinner and closer to the plate’s edge.
Cymbals differ in diameter, which affects the sound they produce. Smaller plates usually sound quieter and have shorter sustain than the large ones.
Another characteristic is the thickness. The heavier instruments typically sound louder and sharper. Thinner plates allow the player to produce lower and fuller sounds.
Cymbals also have different profiles, which is the vertical distance from the bell’s bottom to the bow’s edge. The profile influences the pitch – the higher the profile, the higher the pitch.
Types of Cymbals
This instrument comes in many different varieties. Here, we will discuss the most popular ones: crashes, rides, hi-hats, and splashes. They all have different uses and produce different sounds.
The sound of a crash is what people most commonly think of when they think about cymbals. Used to stress specific parts of a drum pattern, they produce rather loud, distinctive sounds. They are usually located on the left side of the drum kit.
They come in a wide variety of sizes, from 8 to 24 inches usually, which makes their sound quite different in pitch. In addition to size, you can choose crashes of different thickness. The thinner ones will produce brighter tones than the thick ones.
This is usually the largest one in a drum set. It’s typically located on the right side, and drummers often use it for playing steady patterns.
Not as melodic as a crash, the ride produces a more shimmering sound. Ranging usually from 20 to 26 inches, rides tend to be larger in size from crashes, at least in beginner sets. More advanced drummers sometimes use rides over 26 inches in diameter.
The hi-hats come in pairs, and are located on a stand, where the drummer plays them by pressing a pedal on the floor. By pressing and releasing the pedal, the player is able to produce a variety of sounds.
When open, the hi-hats are typically used to provide accent in the rhythm, and when closed, to play steady patterns. Open hi-hats make distinctive, sandy sounds, and closed ones produce metallic, muted sounds. The typical sizes range from 13 to 16 inches.
The splashes are also used for accenting the drum pattern. However, they are also capable of introducing a variety of interesting sound effects to the music.
They are usually smaller and thinner than the other cymbals. The most common sizes vary from 6 to 13 inches, and the sound they produce is rather short and sharp. People tend to associate their sound with a splash of water, hence the name.