Cymbal Types: Up Your Drumming Knowledge

The number of cymbal types available can be bewildering – here’s a helpful ‘beginner’s guide to cymbal types’…

Those unfamiliar with the finer details of drums, such as beginners, may wonder what the differences between the many different cymbal types are.

I mean aside from sizes that can vary between practically CD sized, and big enough to be used as a shield, should you be involved in sword-based combat, there are differences in material, construction techniques… the list goes on.

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Here, we’ll provide a guide to the main types of cymbal, and the other details to consider when buying.

Cymbal Types

1. Crash Cymbals

When most people think of how a cymbal sounds, they’re generally thinking of a crash cymbal. These are loud and explosive cymbals used to accent specific parts of the drum pattern.

Crash cymbals can range from around 8” in size, up to around 24”, changing the pitch drastically. You also have the option of varying in thickness. Thicker cymbals will produce brighter tones. Typically, a beginner set of cymbals will have a crash somewhere between 14” and 18” in size.

A crash ride is a combination of a crash and ride. This usually represents a compromise between the two types of cymbals.

Crash cymbals should be placed to one side or the other of a right-handed kit.

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2. Ride Cymbals

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A ride cymbal is often the biggest cymbal in a typical beginner drum-kit (but not always), and in a right-handed kit is generally placed on the right above the floor tom. While crash cymbals may be used as accents, ride-cymbals will be used to play consistent patterns in a similar way to hi-hats.

Rides have a more subtle, sustaining sound than crashes. Ride cymbals are generally larger than the crash cymbals found in beginner kits. An average ride may be around 20”, but rides of 26” and bigger are not uncommon.

The location where the ride is hit will affect how it sounds. The bell (the bit around the cymbal mount) produces a sharp bell ‘ping’ sound, with low sustain, whilst the bow produces a more subtle, familiar cymbal sound. This is a very versatile cymbal.

Again, thinner rides will give a lighter, brighter and ‘washier’ sound, whilst thicker rides tend to be darker, with a louder, bell-like ‘ping’.

3. Hi-Hats

Hi-hats are the pair of cymbals that sit together on stand, with a pedal to open and close them. These are useful for playing steady patterns and can be opened to add an accent.

When played closed, the sound can vary from a soft, crisp, percussive ‘chick’, to more aggressive, muted and metallic sound, depending on cymbal type. When open, hi-hats have a sandy, ‘sizzle’ sound that cuts through, allowing the drummer to easily accent.

Lighter hi-hat cymbals produce brighter sounds, while heavier cymbals produce darker sounds. Hi-hats are typically between 13” and 16”.

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4. Splash Cymbals

Splash cymbals are usually used much like crash cymbals, to provide accents, but are also used for special drumming effects.

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They are usually small and thin and produce a sharp, short sound, similar to a water splash (geedit?). These cymbals are also known as multi-crash cymbals or crescent.

Splash cymbals generally range from about 6-13”.

5. China Cymbals

China cymbals are generally recognisable by their upturned edge, and cylindrical bell. Tonally, they sound explosively crash-like but are much more trashy. They are sometimes called trash cymbals. The design of these cymbals can be traced back through Chinese gongs. This is why they are called trash cymbals.

Styles of china cymbals vary hugely, with sizes from 8” up to huge, 27” models common. All are characterised by the slightly ‘trashy’ tone, however.

Cymbal Construction

Generally speaking, cymbals can be divided into two categories: cast cymbals and sheet cymbals.

Sheet cymbals cost less and are made from stamped metal sheets. These cymbals are not as durable as cast counterparts. Sheet cymbals can be used by beginners.

Cast cymbals consist of casting molten metal into a mold. After the castings have been poured, they are rolled, hammered, and lathed to make a finished Cymbal. Cast cymbals are more durable than sheet cymbals and have better projection and sustain. They also produce a deeper tone and are generally harder to work with. These cymbals are more costly because of the labor-intensive production processes involved.

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Although there are many types of cymbals available from brands like Zildjian or Sabian, this guide will help you to understand the basics.

Get in touch

Head over to the Dawsons Music website to check out our full range of Drum Gear. Or, visit your local Dawsons shop where our specialists will be more than happy to assist.

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