What are Cymbals? Cymbal Types Explained

March 28, 2022


musical instrument consisting of a slightly concave round brass plate, Either struck against another one or struck with a stick to make a ringing or clashing sound.

A cymbal is a common percussion instrument, 

and they are:

  • Often used in pairs;
  • Made of thin, normally round plates of various alloys;
  • The majority of cymbals are of indefinite pitch; 
  • But small disc-shaped cymbals based on ancient designs sound a definite note.

What cymbal means?

Cymbals have the underlying meaning

Cym·​bal | pronounced: ˈsim-bə

A concave metal plate (brass or bronze) produces a brilliant clashing tone.

It is struck with a drumstick or is used in pairs struck glancingly together. If we look it up in the Cambridge Dictionary, we can find another definition:


Cymbal is a flat, round musical instrument made of brass that makes a loud noise when hit with a stick or against another cymbal.

What are cymbals used for?

Did you know?

Cymbals arose in Asia, and they are among the OLDEST percussion instruments! They were developed in the 7th century BC!

Even in their earliest time, they have been closely associated with religious worship and rituals. They were also used to accompany dances!

Dancers would hang cymbals around their necks on a piece of twine and beat them to the rhythm of the music!

TODAY cymbals are used in all types of music, from ensembles ranging to the orchestra…

For example: 

  • Percussion ensembles;
  • Jazz bands;
  • Heavy metal bands;
  • As well as marching groups.

Cymbals are one of the components of every drum kit.

Are bigger cymbals louder?

Generally speaking, yes, they are

BUT there are circumstances that we need to take into consideration. For example, a thicker cymbal will be louder than one with a larger diameter!

Let’s compare them!

Heavier Cymbals
Thinner Cymbals
Respond with bigger, louder sound but, require more power from the drummer to open up
Respond quickly (because sound vibrations move faster through the metal) and produce fuller sound
Longer Sustain
Decay quickly
Increased Volume
Decreased Volume

IN CONCLUSION – depending on which style of music you want to play, you are choosing the types of cymbals you want to buy 

what are cymbals

Cymbal types

Here are some major cymbal types you should know and use:

  1.  Crash
  2.  Hi-Hat
  3.  Ride
  4. Splash
  5. China
  6. Stack
  7. Effects Cymbals

Is there the difference between a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal?

Crash Cymbals – typically used for accents with very rich and explosive sound

Ride Cymbals – used to play steady patterns, often similar to hi-hats, have more shimmering, sustaining sound.

In the past, they were mostly used by the dance band drummers, and those drummers were not rich so, they were mostly used by drummers who could only afford one cymbal!

Crash Cymbals

The crash cymbal is surely the loudest piece of a drum kit. A stand-alone cymbal gives a loud, sharp, and explosive sound to emphasize certain parts of a song.

This type of cymbal gives dramatic accents when being hit, usually at the end of a musical phrase – this adds much excitement and variety to your sound.

This type of cymbals comes in different styles and sizes, but the most typical ones are 14 to 18 inches (35.56 to 45.72 cm.)

They can vary in weight and thickness, leading to a difference in sound – the more thick the crash cymbal is, the brighter sound it will produce. The standard drum set will have at least one or two crash cymbals.

Hi-Hat Cymbals

Hi-hat is a set of two matching pairs of small or medium-sized cymbals facing each other from the bottoms and put together on a stand.

Along with this set, you will also need to include a foot pedal. The pedal will open and close the pair of cymbals and create the “chick” accent whenever you strike the top one with the drumsticks.

The weight of cymbals is quite important, for the jazz kit, or use in smaller venues, you should go for the smaller ones – 10”, 12” or 13” – and if you play in a more dynamic and powerful band, or louder settings, you should go for the larger ones – 15” or 18”.

These days, the most common Hi-Hats are 13 and 14 inches, but many drummers go for those 15 and 18 inches cymbals.

You can mix and match different cymbals to achieve a top sound – for example, the lighter top will give you a more dynamic range, and the heavier bottom will give you volume.

Ride Cymbals

The ride cymbal is usually the largest drum kit and is most often used to play patterns.

You will enhance the grooves by playing those patterns and depending on which ride you will pick up, you will get different tones.

There are many different types of rides, heavy, light, with different shapes and sizes, and the most standard ones you will find are 20 inches ones.

Since there are different sizes, the ride cymbals come from 16 to 26 inches.

Depending on where you hit the ride, you’ll get a different sound – which is good for different styles of music.

Often, drummers will crash the edge of the ride if they are playing a heavier style of music, the body of the ride is for normal and lighter-in-nature patterns, and the bell sits at the center of the cymbal gives more punctuated accents.

Splash Cymbals

Splash cymbals help drummers to provide their riffs and solos with accents. The design of the Splash cymbals allows them to create a short and sharp sound, precisely the one that resembles a splash of water.

These cymbals are usually smaller, but they range from 6 to 13 inches. The most common sizes drummers use are 8” and 12” splash cymbals.

China Cymbals

China cymbals are named after the Chinese gong because of the resemblances in look and sound.

The edges are upturned, the bell cylindrical, and the sound they create is dark and trashy.

This type can also sound explosive and crash-like, so they are played similarly to crash cymbals.

They come in different sizes, ranging between 16 and 24 inches. There are also smaller ones, like those of 12 inches, called china splash cymbals.

Stack Cymbals

Stack cymbals are two or more cymbals stacked on top of each other, and the sound they produce often gives a gritty and trashy tone.

Sizes are different, and it doesn’t matter. The stacks can be combined with different cymbal types as long as they fit well together.

If you don’t want to buy a manufactured set, you can make your stack cymbals.

Be aware that it can be tricky due to many different and possible combinations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a great and unique one.

Effect Cymbals

Effects cymbals can be a wide variety of cymbals. For example, you may know that the Splashes, Chinas, and Stacks are considered effects cymbals, but those with larger holes and funky hammering deliver sharp and trashy sounds.

Nearly all brands have been experimenting with this type of effects cymbals. For example, many Hi-Hats, Crash, Splash, China, and other types feature different holes within the cymbals, which distort the sound waves and create that special effect of a sharp and aggressive sound.

The O-zone cymbals are effect cymbals manufactured by Sabian. This type of cymbal has lots of holes in cymbal, and it delivers a bright and shimmering sound.

There are also Bell cymbals which are small and thick. These cymbals are usually mounted on another cymbal and produce a unique and high-pitched tone.

Another way you can achieve the different effects of your cymbals is by using Cymbal Bacon Sizzler that will make it sizzle. It is perfect for Rides, Crashes, and Chinas, but it can fit on top of any cymbal that is up to 22”.

tape on cymbals

Why do drummers put tape on their cymbals?

This is actually very popular amongst the drummers …


Well simple because it reduces the volume!

This technique helps reduce the volume and ringing of drums and cymbals + reduces low rumble in toms and harmonics from an overly “live” drum or cymbal.

cymbal finder

Fill out the form, and I will hand-pick the best cymbals for you and drop you an email.

Unfortunately, the type you picked is rarely used in the genre you choose.
Therefore, I will not be able to find the right cymbal for you.
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Duct tape is usually placed on the drum head or cymbal

ATTENTION – Duct tape is cheap and affordable, but note that it’s not the best solution!

What is a dark cymbal?

Okay, newbies, don’t worry, we will explain EVERYTHING!

If we do a little research, we can see that Cymbals can be characterized by either a bright or a dark sound

But what’s the difference?

Dark cymbals have a lower fundamental pitch, providing more brooding sound.

Very common in jazz or fusion music. Unlike the bright ones, which have a higher fundamental pitch and are commonly used in pop or rock music

What is a dry cymbal?

dry cymbal is less washy with fewer overtones. The more extreme dry rides are very tight and have a clangy sound. 

BUT there are NOT always necessary pingy or clangy! It just mostly refers to less build-up while playing.

In this situation, dry means little or no decay. e.g., overtone or roar… Which typically results in a clearer, so-called ‘attack’ sound. 

So a dry ride may be desirable, but a dry crash – where you want some decay and sizzle – isn’t!

Why do my cymbals sound bad?

Here are some reasons why your cymbals sound bad:

  1. Cheaper cymbals usually don’t have such a great sound like expensive ones;
  2. The way how you play them can be a big factor; 
  3. Their physical condition;

The environment in which you are listening.

Here is what influences the cymbal sound.

  • playing with a good technique 
  • will get the best out of your instrument
  • If your cymbals are cracked, dented, or 
  • key-holed, the sound can be permanently impaired
  • The type of room you are in can make a massive difference 
  • to the tone and projection of a cymbal.
  • Rooms with sound-absorbing features, like carpeting, curtains, cushions, will produce a very raw cymbal sound!
  •  Which would be different from playing them in a garage, a large hall, or a venue.


Do cymbals sound better with age?

It really depends on the taste. If you don’t like flashy sound, leave it dirt and let time do the job.

Cymbals, while aging, gain more character, and the tone balances out

In fact, there is a good reason why companies like Zildjian and Sabian let their cymbals sit in a vault,

Some cymbals are aged for months in the factory before they are even sold!

Let’s remember this!

An aged sound of a cymbal is a matter of hearing and personal preference.

How long should cymbals last?

You should be able to get at leas20 years out of quality cymbals!

Of course, they do wear out over time, and they are certainly not indestructible creations!

Most of the major cymbal companies offer a two year warranty, but quality cymbals, like any quality musical instrument, should last a „lifetime”!


The lifetime of cymbals will depend on a few factors!

  • Technique and Cymbal Angling will determine much of your cymbals longevity
  • Size – smaller, thinner cymbals may crack faster than bigger cymbals

So all in all, drummers and cymbalists,

Trust your guts and believe your ears.

With practice and a lot of love, cymbals are in GREAT hands!

Denis Loncaric
Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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