What Are Cymbals in Music? Your Ultimate Guide

Explore the world of cymbals in music. Learn about different types, sizes, and sounds. Enhance your drumming with this ultimate guide.

Today, we’ll be diving into the fascinating world of music and exploring the rhythmic wonders of cymbals. From the lively crash cymbals to the steady hi-hats and the sparkling ride cymbals, these percussion instruments contribute to the sonic landscape of various musical genres. Whether you’re a seasoned musician or just starting your musical journey, join us as we unravel the captivating history, types, and significance of cymbals in the realm of music. Let’s embark on a rhythmic adventure together!

What are cymbals in music? Cymbals are metallic discs designed to create sound when struck. They add texture, dynamics, and accents to musical compositions, enhancing the overall rhythm and groove.

What are the different sizes and sounds of cymbals?

When it comes to cymbals, size does matter! Cymbals can come in a variety of sizes, ranging from the smallest bell and splash cymbals at around 6″ in diameter to the larger china and ride cymbals that can reach up to 30″ in size. Each size offers a unique sonic characteristic and serves a specific purpose in creating diverse musical textures.

Image of china cymbal turned up in the usual manner.
Image of china cymbal turned up in the usual manner.

Impact of size on sound

The size of a cymbal directly impacts its volume, sound, and power. Heavier and larger cymbals tend to be louder, thanks to their increased mass. They produce a strong and cutting sound that can easily stand out in a mix. However, there’s a trade-off: larger cymbals have a slower playing response.

The vibrations take longer to travel through the metal, resulting in a slightly delayed sound compared to smaller cymbals.

The vibrations take longer to travel through the metal, resulting in a slightly delayed sound compared to smaller cymbals. On the other hand, smaller cymbals, like splash cymbals, can produce quick and explosive sounds due to their ability to transmit vibrations faster.

Choosing the right cymbal size

Selecting the right cymbal size depends on your musical style, personal preferences, and the specific role you want the cymbal to play in your drumming. For drummers seeking versatility, a standard cymbal setup typically includes a pair of 14″ hi-hats, a crash cymbal (commonly 16″ or 18″ in diameter), and a ride cymbal (usually 20″ or larger). This basic cymbal pack allows you to cover various musical genres effectively.

Comparing different cymbal sizes and their applications

Cymbal Size (inches)Common NameSound CharacteristicsApplications
6″SplashQuick, bright, and punchyAccenting, creating short bursts of sound
14″Hi-HatCrisp, articulate, and definedPlaying steady rhythmic patterns
16″ – 18″CrashExplosive, loud, and washyAdding emphasis, punctuating transitions
20″ – 22″RideClean, articulate, and pingyProviding steady ride patterns, melodic playing
24″ – 30″ChinaDark, trashy, and explosiveAdding unique accents, creating intense crashes
A table summarizing different cymbal sizes and their common uses

Don’t be afraid to mix and match cymbals of various sizes to create a unique sonic palette that suits your style. Remember, it’s all about finding the right balance and achieving the sound you envision. Understanding the characteristics of different cymbal sizes becomes crucial. It helps you make informed decisions about the cymbals you choose to include in your setup and how they contribute to the overall sonic landscape of your recordings.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What are cymbals in music? Your ultimate guide | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

What are the different types of cymbals and their role in music?

Cymbals come in various shapes and sizes, each with its distinct sound and purpose. Let’s dive into the different types of cymbals you may come across in your musical journey.

Hi-hat cymbals

Hi-hat cymbals are the backbone of the rhythm, keeping you and other musicians on time. They are typically played in conjunction with the kick and snare drum, creating steady rhythmic patterns.

  • Pair of Bottom and Top Hi-Hats: Hi-hat cymbals are comprised of a bottom cymbal and a top cymbal. The bottom cymbal is usually heavier, contributing to the classic percussive “chick” sound when played.
  • Size Variations: Hi-hat cymbals are commonly available in 14″ diameter, but they can range between 12″ and 15″ to suit different musical preferences.
  • Playing Techniques: Hi-hats can be played in various ways, from tightly closed for a focused sound to wide open for a more expressive and “sloshy” metallic sound.

Crash cymbals

Crash cymbals are the embodiment of excitement and variety, punctuating parts of a rhythm or song with their explosive sound.

  • Stand-alone Accent: Crash cymbals are often played at the end of a drum fill or to signify musical transitions. They add impact and energy to the music.
  • Size Variations: Crash cymbals typically range from 14″ to 22″ in diameter, with the most common sizes being 16″ and 18″. Different sizes offer unique tonal characteristics.
  • Weight and Thickness Variations: Crash cymbals come in a range of weights and thicknesses, allowing drummers to explore different sound qualities. Experimentation is key to finding your desired crash cymbal sound.

Ride cymbals

Ride cymbals are essential components of a drum set, especially in jazz drumming. They have a unique playing technique and produce a specific sound profile.

  • Larger Size and Bell: Ride cymbals resemble crash cymbals in appearance but are larger, usually starting from 20″ in diameter. They also feature a larger bell, adding harmonics and presence to the sound.
  • Playing Technique: Ride cymbals are played on the top surface (bow) or the bell with the tip of the drumstick, creating clean and articulate “ping” sounds. They offer a defined note and a short sustain compared to crash cymbals.

Other types of cymbal

In addition to hi-hats, crash, and ride cymbals, there are several other noteworthy types:

  • Splash Cymbals: These small and thin cymbals, typically ranging from 6″ to 12″ in size, produce quick and sharp sounds used for punchy accents.
  • China Cymbals: Known for their loud, trashy sound, china cymbals have an upturned bow resembling Chinese gongs. They create explosive accents and add character to drumming.
  • Bell Cymbals: Small, thick, and heavy bells with little to no taper; bell cymbals produce a unique, high-pitched, and loud tone with a long sustain. They are often mounted on top of other cymbals.
  • Effects Cymbals: These cymbals feature perforations or holes, creating sharp and trashy sounds with shorter decay. They are designed to deliver unique and aggressive tonal qualities.

Below is a table that serves as a quick reference for the dos and don’ts.

Consider your musical style and genreOverlook quality
Listen and test various cymbalsRush the decision
Consider your playing technique and preferencesNeglect your budget
Aim for versatilityOverlook the importance of balance
The dos and don’ts when choosing cymbals for your music needs

Remember, cymbals are not just metal discs; they are the heartbeat of your rhythm section. In the realm of home recording, it’s crucial to have a diverse selection of cymbals to choose from. They contribute to the overall sonic palette and add depth and character to your recordings.

What are the differences between cast cymbals vs. sheet cymbals in terms of manufacturing?

Understanding the manufacturing process of cymbals is essential to appreciate their craftsmanship and sound quality. Let’s explore the difference between cast cymbals and sheet cymbals, two distinct methods of cymbal production.

Cast cymbals: The art of handcrafting

Cast cymbals are the gold standard in the drumming world, crafted with meticulous attention to detail and years of expertise. Here’s a breakdown of the cast cymbal manufacturing process:

  • Molten Bronze: Cast cymbals start as molten bronze, a mixture of 80% copper and 20% tin, known as B20 bronze. This composition is highly regarded for its sonically rich characteristics.
  • Molding: The molten bronze is poured into a mold, taking the shape of the desired cymbal. This step defines the cymbal’s size, weight, and initial profile.
  • Shaping and Hammering: Once the bronze disc cools down, it undergoes shaping, hammering, and lathing. Skilled craftsmen use hand hammering techniques to shape the cymbal’s profile, giving it a unique tonal character. Lathing refines the surface and enhances its playability.
  • Quality Control: Each cast cymbal undergoes rigorous quality control to ensure it meets the highest standards. Experienced craftsmen carefully inspect and test the cymbals for sound, response, and overall quality.

Cast cymbals offer unparalleled craftsmanship and sonic richness. The labor-intensive process, hand-hammering, and individual attention are given to each cymbal resulting in instruments with nuanced tonal complexities and musicality. It’s no wonder why professional drummers often choose cast cymbals for their performances.

Sheet cymbals: Practicality and affordability

Sheet cymbals, as the name suggests, are stamped out of large existing sheets of metal, making them a more practical and affordable alternative to cast cymbals. Here’s what you should know about sheet cymbals:

  • Sheet Metal Stamping: Sheet cymbals are created by stamping or cutting them out of large sheets of brass or B8 bronze, which is an alloy composed of 92% copper and 8% tin.
  • Cost-Effective Production: The sheet metal stamping process allows for the mass production of cymbals at a lower cost compared to cast cymbals. This makes sheet cymbals more accessible to beginner drummers or those on a budget.
  • Entry-Level Lines: Sheet cymbals are often found in entry-level cymbal lines, such as Zildjian ZBT and Meinl HCS, which provide affordable options for novice drummers to develop their playing skills.

While sheet cymbals may not possess the same level of handcrafted intricacy as cast cymbals, they serve as practical and affordable tools for drummers starting their musical journey. They offer decent sound quality and playability, allowing beginners to explore their drumming skills without breaking the bank.

Choosing between cast cymbals and sheet cymbals is like deciding between a tailor-made suit and off-the-rack clothing. Cast cymbals, with their handcrafted artistry, deliver a premium experience that caters to discerning drummers seeking top-tier quality. On the other hand, sheet cymbals provide an affordable entry point without compromising on sound, making them the go-to choice for those starting their rhythmic adventures.

Image of drum set and cymbals.
Image of drum set and cymbals.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using different cymbal sizes?

Cymbal selection is crucial in shaping the overall sound of a drum set. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to consider when choosing different cymbal sizes for your music production or home studio setup:


  • Versatility: Using cymbals of various sizes allows for a wider range of sonic possibilities and expressive playing styles.
  • Expressive Dynamics: Different cymbal sizes offer diverse dynamic responses, providing a broader tonal palette and enhancing musical expression.
  • Distinct Sound Textures: Each cymbal size has its unique sonic characteristics, contributing to your recordings’ overall texture and depth.
  • Musical Variety: By incorporating various cymbal sizes, you can create engaging rhythms and musical accents, adding depth and interest to your compositions.


  • Budget Considerations: Acquiring a wide range of cymbal sizes can be costly, especially when aiming for high-quality professional cymbals.
  • Physical Space: Larger cymbals require more physical space in your studio or drumming area, which may pose challenges in smaller setups.
  • Mixing Challenges: When recording or mixing, managing the balance and separation of different cymbal sizes can be demanding, requiring careful equalization and placement techniques.
  • Transportation and Setup: Transporting and setting up multiple cymbals of different sizes can be time-consuming and cumbersome, particularly for gigging musicians.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of different cymbal sizes will help you make informed decisions when selecting cymbals for your music production or home studio recordings. Remember to find a balance that suits your musical style, budget, and available space.

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Have a burning question about cymbals in music? Check out these frequently asked questions:

How do I choose the right cymbal size for my music?

When choosing a cymbal size, consider the genre and style of music you play. Smaller sizes like splash cymbals work well for accenting and adding quick bursts of sound, while larger sizes like ride cymbals provide a steady ride pattern. Experiment and find cymbals that complement your musical preferences and playing style.

Can I mix different cymbal brands in my drum set?

Yes, you can mix different cymbal brands in your drum set. While each brand may have its own sonic characteristics, feel free to explore different brands and models to find the specific sounds that resonate with you. The key is to listen and ensure the cymbals complement each other harmoniously.

How should I care for and maintain my cymbals?

To keep your cymbals in top condition, avoid striking them with excessive force and use appropriate drumsticks or mallets. After playing, wipe them clean with a soft cloth to remove dirt, fingerprints, and stick marks. Regularly inspect your cymbals for cracks or keyholing and address any issues promptly. Finally, consider using protective sleeves or cases when transporting your cymbals to prevent damage.


We’ve journeyed through the fascinating world of cymbals in music, exploring their different types, sizes, and applications. From the lively splashes to the explosive crashes, each cymbal adds its distinctive flavor to the rhythmic tapestry of a song. Remember, the right cymbal selection can transform your drumming experience and elevate your music to new heights. So, go forth and let the cymbals be your musical punctuation!

Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on cymbals. Thanks for reading, and keep grooving to the beat!

Key Takeaways

  • Cymbal sizes range from small splash cymbals to larger ride cymbals and china cymbals.
  • Each cymbal size offers unique sonic characteristics and is suitable for different musical applications.
  • Consider factors such as genre, playing style, and personal preference when choosing cymbals.
  • Mixing different cymbal brands is possible to achieve a customized sound.
  • Proper care and maintenance, including regular cleaning and inspection, are essential to prolonging the lifespan of cymbals.

Helpful Resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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