Cymbals, Cymbals, Cymbals
by Dave Hagedorn
selection and care of cymbals in jazz and concert situations should
be given the same attention as woodwind, brass, and string players
give to their instruments.
a wide selection of cymbals available from reputable manufacturers, the
choice of cymbals can become
difficult. What is a basic selection and what should you buy to augment
your collection of cymbals? What kind of stands should you use? What
is the difference between concert cymbals and drum set cymbals? These
are but a few questions that need to be answered.
Crash cymbals have
been designated in three weights: French, Viennese, and German. If
you are buying a pair of crash cymbals (hand held cymbals) for the
first time, the best overall weight to get is a Viennese weight.
The Viennese is an all-purpose, mid-weight cymbal that you can use
situations, especially when you want the cymbal crashes to blend
with your group. If you are buying for the high school level, purchase
18" pair. For middle school or younger percussionists, a pair of
is preferable. Cymbals that are too large for smaller people are
difficult to control. When I play with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
orchestras, I frequently use 16" Viennese cymbals.
If you already
own a pair of Viennese cymbals, I recommend purchasing a pair of
weight (heavy) crash cymbals. These are especially useful for marches
and big crashes where the desired sound is to be heard over the group,
rather than to blend with the rest of the ensemble. Get a size that
is either slightly larger or smaller than what you already have.
For instance if you have 18" Viennese cymbals, then get a pair of
16" Germanic. If you really have a large budget, try a large (20" or
larger) pair of either Viennese or Germanic cymbals to use when you
want a huge crash that dominates everything, such as in the last
movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.
The suspended cymbal is
an instrument that virtually all band and orchestra composers use.
A variety of different
sizes and weights are needed, but the most versatile one and perhaps
the first one that should be purchased is an 18" thin crash cymbal.
I prefer a thinner cymbal, because it is easier to control at both
loud and soft dynamics. Another good choice is one that the manufacturer
has labeled as a “suspended cymbal.” Very thin, small cymbals (such
as 14") can be used in delicate moments for cymbal crashes with sticks
or mallets at low dynamics. Avoid using a large suspended cymbal
when you want the sound to speak quickly and have a short or fast
Drum set cymbals should be a completely separate
collection, and used solely for the drum set. The basic cymbal collection for
should be a 20" medium ride cymbal, a 16" crash cymbal, and a pair
of 14" hi-hat cymbals. While there are many cymbals, all with specific
purposes, I feel that a 20" medium ride cymbal is the most versatile
for school jazz bands. Rock ride cymbals are not good for jazz, but
a jazz ride cymbal will work fine for rock and Latin grooves. The
flat ride cymbal, that is, a cymbal without a bell on it, is used
for contemporary straight eighth note tunes and Brazilian beats,
but is not as good for swing tunes. Do not use a ride cymbal as a
cymbal for concert band or orchestra use for it is too thick for
soft rolls and the sound won’t “blossom” if played in a crash cymbal
A variety of stands exist that are available today for
cymbals. I prefer
the use of a “gooseneck” stand for suspended cymbals. This means
that you will need to have leather straps for all of your suspended
not just the crash cymbals. The use of leather straps allows the
cymbal to vibrate freely, because the cymbal is hanging freely, not
on a stand. The goosenecks also eliminate any chance of loose wing
nuts or parts of the stands rattling, since the cymbal is not in
direct contact with the stand. When using regular cymbal stands,
that you have a supply of extra felt washers to eliminate any unwanted
and extraneous sounds. When transporting suspended cymbals make certain
that all of the wing nuts are tight, so you won’t lose any of the
parts. A cymbal stand with missing parts is useless because the cymbal
be damaged or it can produce unwanted sounds. Gum rubber is preferred
over plastic tubing on the cymbal stand posts. Plastic is more durable,
but can produce unwanted rattles when the cymbal is struck. You can
get tubes of gum rubber from scientific supply houses (ask your science
teachers for a source). Boom stands are very useful and often preferred
by professional percussionists due to their versatility, but are
also more expensive.
I strongly recommend that you use leather straps
crash cymbals, and I discourage the use of wooden handles. Wooden
handles that are tightened too much, can cause cracks in the cymbal
the cymbal useless. This cannot happen with leather. Learn how to
tie a cymbal knot (check method books like Standard of Excellence or literature
from cymbal companies), or you can also purchase a strap that holds
the cymbal with a metal ball in a pouch. It is also recommended to
use a cymbal bag or case when transporting your cymbals. Scratches
and cracks on cymbals can alter the sound, so you want the cymbals
to be protected when you move them from place to place.
a number of cymbals that have special effects. Sizzle cymbals have
in them and allow the rivets to vibrate after the cymbal is struck.
You can hear this sound on recordings by drummers such as Elvin Jones,
Mel Lewis, and Art Blakey. The cymbal has holes drilled into it at
the factory and rivets are inserted. Later, if you decide you don’t
want the rivets, you are left with holes in the cymbal. Not a bad
thing necessarily, but something to be aware of. If you want a sizzle
without the drilling, you can buy commercially available sizzlers
that attach to the cymbal stand.
The splash cymbal is a special variety
of cymbal that has a very fast crash and instant decay. They come
different sizes, usually in smaller diameters, often between 6" to
10". Splash cymbals are used in special concert situations and also
if you want your jazz drummer to have a crash sound from the very
early swing era.
If you purchase a variety of cymbals over the years
care for them, all of your ensembles will have a range of cymbal
colors that will enhance each performance. Once you get a basic collection,
purchasing more specific sizes and weights will allow you to have
proper cymbal for each performance occasion.
Dave Hagedorn is a professional
percussionist in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. He
is the percussion instructor at St. Olaf College in Northfield,
Copyright © 2004
Neil A. Kjos Music Company. All rights reserved.