Kjos Band News
Spring 2004    Volume 9    

Cymbals, Cymbals, Cymbals
by Dave Hagedorn

The 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.
     With a wide selection of cymbals available from reputable manufacturers, the choice of cymbals can become more 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 in all situations, especially when you want the cymbal crashes to blend with your group. If you are buying for the high school level, purchase an 18" pair. For middle school or younger percussionists, a pair of 16" cymbals is preferable. Cymbals that are too large for smaller people are difficult to control. When I play with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and other orchestras, I frequently use 16" Viennese cymbals.
     If you already own a pair of Viennese cymbals, I recommend purchasing a pair of Germanic 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 17" or 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 decay.
     Drum set cymbals should be a completely separate collection, and used solely for the drum set. The basic cymbal collection for the drum set 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 effectively 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 suspended 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 situation.
     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 cymbals, not just the crash cymbals. The use of leather straps allows the cymbal to vibrate freely, because the cymbal is hanging freely, not resting 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, make sure 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 can 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 for crash cymbals, and I discourage the use of wooden handles. Wooden handles that are tightened too much, can cause cracks in the cymbal and render 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.
     There are a number of cymbals that have special effects. Sizzle cymbals have rivets 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 sound 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 in 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 and 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 the 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, Minnesota.

Copyright © 2004 Neil A. Kjos Music Company. All rights reserved.

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