Drum Cymbals (hopefully everything you will ever need to know)

In this post I will be looking at lots of different aspect to do with Cymbals from playing them correctly to giving them the best possible chance of survival and set-up (but not placement)

Cymbal Anatomy

Ill start with a little pick detailing the anatomy of a cymbal.

I will predominately be referencing Zildjian as that’s the make I use and know the most about. But there are plenty of others out there for you to try.

Cymbals are the most delicate part of the drum kit. They can be easily damaged if not cared for or played properly. Im going to attempted to show you the correct mounting of your cymbals and the correct way to strike them. With the main goal of extending the life of the cymbal. Ive been playing drums for over 20 years and never once broke a cymbal (touch wood) these things will last you a few decades if you treat them right and play them how they were designed to be played. As we all know cymbals can be very expensive. With the top ranges from each manufacturer fetching between £100-£350. So better not to crack one.

The first thing to realise is every cymbal is made for a specific purpose. With that in mind you need to think about your style of playing and what’s going to be best for you. There is no point buying paper thin crash if you hit like a metal drummer. The cymbals will simply not last. And there is no point beating the hell out of a splash trying to achieve the same volume as a 18” crash the cymbal will simply break. So plan you cymbal set-up around what you will be requiring from it. Most manufacturers cater for almost all styles of playing. This been said they do also have budget ranges. These will crack faster than the more expensive cymbals largely because they are made of cheaper materials and not as flexible.

A Quick reference to cymbal sizing

Splash = These are normally the smallest cymbals on a kit and typically range from 6” up to 12” The main purpose of this type of cymbal is for quick short sharpe accents and are normally thin in size.

Crash = These are the mid size cymbals that can be used for a variety of purposes but can also come in some very huge sizes. These are typically 14” up to 20” but come in a vast amount of thicknesses form Paper Thin up to projection rock crashes that feel like man hole covers. These can be used to fill out the sound of drum fills. Or to be ridden for a contrast between two song parts.

Ride = These are typically one of the largest cymbals you will have in your set. They range between 20” through to 24” They are typically medium to heavy weight with a nice large bell for paten accents. The main idea of this cymbal is to add contrasts and feel to different beats. But some can be thin enough to crash as well.

Hi-Hats = These are arguably the most import and definitely the most used set of cymbals on the drum kit. I say set because these are a pair of cymbals. They come in many sizes from 10” up to 15” and some may be bigger. These cymbals form the part of the main structure to you basic drum patens.

Effect Cymbals = I wont go into all the ins and outs as there are lots of variations to these. These are manly used for accents or white noise within your playing.

A typical set up would normally involve some cymbals from each of these categories. Below Ive listed a good basic starter setup.

Hi-Hats 14”
Splash 10”
Crash 16” and 18”
Ride 20”
Effect Cymbal i.e. China 14”

This would be the ideal set-up to begin your drumming journey.

Cymbal Stands

There are lots of different cymbal stands out there to chose from (far too many for me to list). Which ever one’s you choose I would recommend they be double braced as these are more stable and durable and less prone to be knocked over.

Preparing the stands for you cymbals is probably the most important part to helping extend the life of your cymbals. No cymbal stand is complete without the following:

  • A nylon or plastic tube over the centre rod so the thread of the stand doesn’t hurt and chip away at the cymbal.
  • A metal support washer to prevent the cymbal from sliding down too far.
  • Felt on top of the metal washer, under the cymbal, to prevent metal-to-metal contact
  • A felt on top of the cymbal to protect it from the wing nut
  • And finally a wing nut to keep the cymbal on the stand

Do not over tighten the cymbal

I can’t stress this enough A cymbal must be free to vibrate. Vibrations are what generate sound in the metal. The looser the cymbal, the better the sound. Tightening it will kill that sound… choking it the same way as if it was being held, or dampening it in much the same way as a piece of tape. If the cymbal isn’t free to move, then the pressure of your playing creates stress in the metal and that can create cracking. Cracking due to over-tightening usually happens around the base of the bell or straight in from the edge.

Do not over angle a cymbal

Cymbals should be positioned fairly flat and angled only slightly toward you, so your stick can slice across their edge. A cymbal that is angled too steeply is restricted from moving freely and it will suffer the same stress as if it were bolted down too tight. This will restrict the sound and can lead to cracking.

How to play your cymbals correctly

The edge of the cymbal is meant to be ‘crashed’, but there are two things you can do to get the most and best sound out of your crashes plus avoid cracking them:

Don’t hit directly into the edge. If you are ‘chewing up’ your sticks when playing your crashes you may be hitting directly into the edge. When you direct-hit the edge of the cymbal, you are pushing the stick into it. This not only hurts the edge (and your stick), it reduces the response of the cymbal… choking it somewhat. Heavy hitting like this may cause the cymbal to vibrate uncontrollably, for a less than perfect sound. If you must do the occasional direct hit, strike and pull back quickly. Like touching something hot, pulling a punch, or snapping a towel.

Do you slice your stick across the edge in a sweeping motion? A glancing blow activates the cymbal and lets it vibrate freely because the stick is on and off the cymbal before it vibrates. This sweep-stroke will give you the best sound. It will also create a ‘flow motion’ that will bring your stick back into play faster and more smoothly, so you’ll be playing better.
Grip and stick technique also come into this and emphasize how important proper technique is throughout.
Protect your cymbals when they are not in use or being transported

Your cymbals are in danger once they are off their stands. They can get knocked over and their edges damaged if you lean them against your stands or other objects while ‘tearing down’ your kit (a small nick on the edge can grow to become a major crack!). Other band members can step on them if they’re lying on the floor. Avoid these dangers by putting them directly into a quality cymbal bag or hard-shell cymbal case. Inserting dividers between the cymbals in the case will prevent metal-to-metal contact. Pieces of cloth, inexpensive kitchen towels (also good for wiping the cymbals clean after playing), or the original plastic bags the cymbals came in, are some options. Always stack cymbals so smaller models fit into larger models.


Now I don’t clean my cymbals as they become mellower over time and the overtones become more musical if let alone. But I also know some people like super shiny cymbals. To tell the truth so do I. All the major brands make there own specific cymbal cleaner. The problem with these is they do remove the logos and as you clean them they take a fine amount of metal of the cymbals. But consequently by doing this is alters the tone of the cymbal. So I stick with my dirty and dull ones.

A fun little link showing a Cymbal been hit at 1000 FPS and the effect it has on it.

About ajbennettdrums

I have been playing drums for over 20 years now and currently have over 9 years of teaching experience. I am comfortable playing all styles and am a proficient sight reader of music. I started playing drums at the tender age of 7 and I vividly remember exactly what it was that got me into drumming. One Sunday afternoon I was watching a documentary on classic 80’s bands, equipped with huge Drum Kits taking up most of the stage. I then proceeded to empty out a tonne of boxes in my room, cut holes in them and sticky-tape bits together to create my first drum kit (using pencils as sticks). At that point, my dad thought it would be a good idea to send me off for Drum Lessons and from that moment on I have never looked back.

Posted on April 27, 2012, in Drumming Bits and Bobs. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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