A Word About Picking Out Cymbals

As drummers, we spend a lot of time playing and practicing by ourselves, and we are used to hearing our cymbals in that context. Or perhaps we try out cymbals at a music store (hardly the best environment for hearing them). The problem is that cymbals aren't designed as solo instruments, so hearing them alone often gives us a false idea of how they will work in a band situation.

So you play a cymbal by itself and find that “it rings too much,” or, “it's too bright.” But that says nothing of how it will blend with the music. Cymbals need overtones and a bit of brightness to both blend and be heard, standing out among the other instruments. 

Dark & Dry (I actually have one of these for special situations)

Going To The Dark Side

Today's trend is toward darker, dryer cymbals. I must admit that they can sound great when played by themselves, but I've heard numerous drummers live who's cymbals just disappeared in the mix. That dark, dry sound got swallowed up by all the other frequencies around it. This is especially true in rock or pop music. 

Darker cymbals have always faired better in an acoustic environment, especially in the classic jazz piano trio, or piano/sax/bass/drums quartet, because they blend well.

Note: while I love the sound of dark and dark & dry cymbals, I play mostly brighter sounding cymbals. It works for me, it make be different for you.

Friend or foe?

To Tape Or Not To Tape

To make matters possibly worse, some drummers put tape all over a cymbal in order to dry it up. Can you imagine wrapping a violin in duct tape? How's that concerto sound now?

Before we go any further, let's look at this tape idea. As I mentioned above, when you play in a room all by yourself, sitting right at your drums, you hear every little vibration and overtone. Sitting on the drum stool is NOT the best place to hear your drums and cymbals. Because you are right in the midst of everything, it's all magnified. The best place to hear your set is 10, 20 or more feet away from it. This way you get to hear how the set's sounds interact with the room. Better yet is hearing your set being played with your band.

A good test is to have someone else play your set, hopefully close to your style, and then walk around the room listening to them. Do this both drums only and with the band playing. Pay attention to how the cymbals both blend and cut. Listen to your set through the sound system too. It's a whole different world out infant of the band. After this, if you still feel there are too many overtones or ringing in your cymbals, try just a little tape at a time, increasing it until you tame the frequency that you find distracting. Too much tap and your cymbals will sound dead (that's fine if that's the sound you want.)

The recording studio is another thing all together. Here your set is basically under a microscope where every little tone and frequency will be heard. Again, judicious use of tape/muffling can tame the unwanted frequencies.

Bigger cymbals for bigger sounds

The Right Cymbal For The Right Job

Weight and size are also important factors. I see a lot of hard rock and metal drummers going for heavier cymbals when they should actually go for bigger cymbals. Instead of going for an 18" heavy crash, they would be better off with a 20" medium crash. A smaller, heavier cymbal is actually more brittle and will not give as much when hit. The force of of hitting it has to go somewhere, and over time, heavy cymbals can actually break. Larger, thinner cymbals will flex more when struck, allowing the force to be spread around the cymbal. Ian Paice, of Deep Purple, uses 22" & 24" Crashes!

Check out this high speed video of a cymbal being crashed:

Notice how much the metal flexed. If you play a smaller, thicker cymbal, it will be much stiffer and more prone to breakage, because it can't absorb the shock of being hit as well.

The Take Away

As in all things drums, there are unlimited ways to get the sounds you want. Try different things, but as in medical conditions, always get a second opinion because your own ears can be biased.

~ MB

Deconstruct Yourself™


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