How Many Cymbals Should I Have? A 2 Minute Quick Guide

By Evan C

Cymbals Are The Music You Hear

Cymbals play a crucial role in shaping the overall sound and dynamics for drummers. With that said, are asking, ‘how many cymbals should I have?’

From adding accents and crashes to defining grooves and creating transitions, cymbals are the rhythmic spice that brings a drum kit to life.

How Many Cymbals Should I Have?

The ideal number of cymbals for your drum set is subjective and depends on your musical preferences, playing style, and budget.

While some drummers may find a basic setup consisting of a ride cymbal, crash cymbal, and hi-hats sufficient for their needs, others may desire a more extensive collection to explore a wider range of sounds and textures.

How many cymbals should I have? 3 is how many a basic cymbal setup is comprised of.
A basic cymbal setup includes hi-hats, a ride cymbal, and a crash.

Consider the musical genres you play and the specific cymbals commonly used in those styles. Balance your aspirations with your financial resources, as cymbals can vary greatly in price. Cymbal packs offer the best savings in cymbal purchases.

Additionally, take into account practical considerations such as the space available for your drum set and the ease of transportation.

Ultimately, the number of cymbals you should have is a personal preference that allows you to express your musicality and fulfill your artistic vision.

Cymbals And Your Scenario

These things can vary, so let’s dive into a few different scenarios and what your situation may look like in comparison. Hopefully you won’t be asking how many cymbals should I have after this!

Factors In Choosing Your Cymbals

Quality over Quantity:

Before delving into the numbers, it’s essential to emphasize the significance of quality over quantity. A well-crafted, sonically diverse collection of cymbals will undoubtedly enhance your drumming experience more than an excessive number of subpar cymbals.

My cymbals
My cymbal set-up – sometimes I don’t use the Saluda and will just play with 3

Remember, each cymbal serves a unique purpose, and investing in high-quality pieces will provide a better overall sound and playability.

Considerations for Choosing Cymbals

  1. Musical Style: The cymbal type and number of cymbals you should have largely depend on the type of music you play.

For instance, jazz drummers may prefer a more minimalistic setup with a ride, hi-hats, and a few versatile crashes.

In contrast, a rock or metal drummer might opt for an expanded setup with multiple crashes, splashes, chinas, and a larger ride cymbal to handle more aggressive playing styles.

“How many cymbals should I have if I play rock?” Different styles of music usually require contrasting needs and different sounds from your cymbals.

With the harder styles like blues, funk, and hard rock, you may find there are more cymbals (although it’s not a general rule of thumb) drummers have within their setup. 

As mentioned, this could be extra crash cymbals, hi-hats, or even effects cymbals. These different types of cymbals called effects cymbals produce different accents that can be used to add more flair to your drumming and the music you’re playing for. This type of cymbal can vary.

Lots of cymbals

China cymbals can be used for harsh accents, or keeping time/beat, and even breakdowns in metal music.

They tend to be thinner cymbals and stand out among the rest of the cymbals with their cutting trashiness and quick decay.

They can vary in size from mini chinas (~8″ – 14″) to regular-sized china cymbals (14″+). So, if you want higher pitched china cymbals, you may opt for the smaller sizes. 

Also, if you want a faster decay, you may opt for a thinner china cymbal.

China cymbal
China cymbal circled in red

Speaking of smaller sizes, splash cymbals are also great effects cymbals and perfect for adding in accentuated strokes. Splashes tend to range in size from 6″ all the way to 12″. 

There are other effects cymbals that can be used for greater variability as well, such as stacker cymbals, bells, and riveted cymbals.

There is no one size fits all here and some crashes are made into riveted cymbals and/or mini china and crash cymbals are combined to make stacker cymbals.

Jazz drummers may require an extra crash or a splash, but you don’t typically see jazz drummers with a ton of effects cymbals, or even a lot more than 1 or 2 crashes.

“So, how many cymbals should I have if I want to play jazz?” A lot of them will just use what’s necessary in a hi-hat (keeping time), ride cymbal (syncopated strokes/keeping time/accenting), and crash cymbal (dynamics).

Splash cymbal
See the tiny splash cymbal?

Rock drummers can also opt for the standard 3-cymbal set-up (hi-hat cymbals, crash, ride) and there is nothing that says the style of music you play must be ‘xxx’ before you use ‘abc’ cymbals. 

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2. Functionality and Versatility: Consider the range of sounds you aim to produce. A core set of cymbals typically includes a ride cymbal for steady rhythm, hi-hats for tight and controlled beats, and one or two crashes for impactful accents.

These essentials cover a wide array of musical genres as we mentioned and serve as the foundation for most drummers.

However, if you desire greater tonal variety, as well as the different cymbals, we have to look at the wide range of sizes ​and thickness

The common sizes of these cymbals are discussed below, but we have to look at the thickness and the different ways it affect the cymbals sound. 

Larger cymbals are going to be lower-pitched than cymbals with a smaller diameter. Thinner cymbals will also produce a lower pitch than thicker cymbals of the same size.

Smaller cymbals are going to be more higher-pitched, as well as thicker cymbals. These are just a couple things to really look for and it depends in some cases.

There are other things such as material, cast cymbals vs sheet, bell size, taper, lathing and hammering that will affect the cymbal, but I’m not a cymbal artisan, so I won’t even try to delve into those things.. 😂

“How many cymbals should I have if I just want to play the drums? I don’t want to be tied down by a style!” The 3 below will work for you!

Hi-hats, rides, and crashes should be prioritized if you want the basic cymbal setup. The most common sizes for a hi hat are 13″ to 15″, though there are definitely choices lower and higher than that range.

A couple things like thickness and size should be considered in your cymbal selection

14″ is probably the most marketed hi-hat size out there and it will do you justice for any style of music. You’ll see most rides at 20″, but there are some a little lower (18-19″) and as high as 26″ (heavier cymbals). 

Crashes start at 14″ and go as high as 22″, which is basically a light ride cymbal at that point. The standard crash cymbal sizes you’ll see are normally 16″ and 18″.

Larger crash cymbals are perfect for lots of styles of music, but you may see it more with heavier playing.

A lot of people will also use their crash cymbals as rides or their ride as a crash. In this case, you get dual purpose for a cymbal, so it’s something to think about.

The best size for heavier hitters may be larger and thicker cymbals, although I can be a hard hitter and I play with larger, thinner cymbals because I prefer the lower-pitched cymbals. It’s not a one size kind of thing.

3. Budget and Practicality: Cymbals can be a significant investment, so it’s important to factor in your budget when deciding how many to acquire.

While having a variety of cymbals can be exciting, it’s crucial to strike a balance between your aspirations and financial feasibility.

Additionally, consider the practicality of transporting and setting up your kit. Too many cymbals can become cumbersome and difficult to manage, especially for live performances or frequent gigging.​

I can tell you I used to play with more cymbals and it was always a hassle messing with each one, as well as the cymbal stand I’d have to set up and tear down.

When you play with 3-5 cymbals, it’s more manageable than 12. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the sauce and think you need a bunch of cymbals.

Finding Your Ideal Number

Ultimately, the ideal number of cymbals is a subjective choice, tailored to your individual needs and preferences. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are a few guidelines to consider:

  1. Start with the essentials: Begin with a basic set consisting of a ride cymbal, hi-hats, and one crash cymbal. This versatile setup will allow you to handle a wide range of musical styles.

​New drummers may focus on trying to check every box, but just get what makes sense. You can always add on later.

A basic set-up of hi-hats, a ride cymbal, and two crashes on this 4-piece drum set
Some hats, a ride, and 2 crashes are common

2. Experiment and expand gradually: As you gain experience and explore various musical genres, you can gradually expand your cymbal collection.

Experiment with additional crashes, splashes, chinas, or specialty cymbals to enhance your creativity and adaptability.

3. Test before you invest: Before purchasing a new cymbal, try it out in person, if possible. Visit a drum shop or attend drumming expos to experience the sound and feel firsthand. This ensures you make informed decisions and select cymbals that align with your sonic preferences.

Cymbal Quantity Loading..

You can get by with the bare essentials as a drummer and there are so many cymbal packs out there that will work. I used to crave having so many cymbals, but now I only play and practice with some hats, a ride, and 2 crashes.

I double one of my crashes as a semi-stacker with a splash on top as well. I used to like thicker and brighter cymbals with more decay, but I’ve loved thinner, darker cymbals with a faster decay for the past few years.

It’s all personal preference, ear changes, and researching over and over again. Just keep getting better and you may notice how your ear changes in what you like.

Be sure to research if you like bright or dark cymbals, as well as anything else talked about here to really get an idea. It’s important YOU get a great sound for yourself! 😌

Drum scientists aren't real
Some drum scientists, probably hard at researching cymbals.

Too Many Cymbals Or No?

Hopefully how many cymbals should I have? Well, you have enough to go off of here. What are your thoughts? Do you think you need a ton of cymbals? Let me know in the comments below!

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Until next time, stay attuned!

-Evan C.

About the author

Hi there, I'm Evan and I love drums.. Also, I love music! I've been playing drums for most of my life and nothing beats the thrill I get from it. I hope to be able to provide you with insightful tips and reviews on things within the drum and music world!

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