Why Do Drummers Have So Many Cymbals? Uncovering Mystery

By Evan C

So Many Cymbals All Over..

When attending a live music show or even casually watching a drumming performance video, one might wonder: why do drummers have so many cymbals?

For the untrained eye, it could seem overwhelming and perhaps excessive that this guy behind the drums on the drum throne has that many. However, there is a method to the madness, and a variety of factors contribute to the array of cymbals that surround a drummer.

Why Do Drummers Have So Many Cymbals? Is this many necessary?

Purposes For Each Cymbal

Each cymbal serves a unique purpose, both in terms of sound and function, similar to how diverse paintbrushes provide an artist with different strokes and textures.

Cymbals come in a range of sizes and shapes, and their properties affect the tonality, sustain, and overall impact of the sound produced. Typically, they are readily available in cymbal packs. Click here to check out my post about the best cymbal packs.

This ability to create a wide range of different sounds adds depth and dimension to the overall musical performance.

Furthermore, the choice of cymbals reflects a drummer’s personal style and the music genre they are playing.

A jazz drummer, for example, might have a different cymbal setup compared to a rock or metal drummer.

By understanding the role of these cymbals in drumming – from creating rhythm, adding accents, or contributing to the overall atmosphere – we can appreciate the complexity and nuance behind the drummer’s elaborate setup.

Why Do Drummers Have So Many Cymbals Though?

A Music’s Essence: The Drummer

Drummers play a crucial role in any musical ensemble. They provide the heartbeat and rhythm that hold the band together and give the music its distinct character.

One of the ways they achieve this is by using a variety of cymbals on their drum kit. In this section, we’ll explore why drummers have so many cymbals.

Cymbals are made of metal (more on that in a little) and come in a range of sizes and types, each with its unique sound and purpose. Here are some common types of cymbals:

  • Crash Cymbal: Creates an explosive and bright sound, used for accents and emphasis.
  • Ride Cymbal: Generates a steady and controlled sound, perfect for maintaining a constant rhythm.
  • Hi-Hat Cymbal: Consists of two cymbals on a stand that can be opened and closed with a foot pedal, producing a sharp, “chick” sound. Hi-hats are used for keeping time and adding groove. Eighth notes and quarter notes are used a lot.
Cymbal TypeUseSound
Crash CymbalAccents and emphasisExplosive and bright
Ride CymbalConstant rhythmSteady and controlled
Hi-Hat CymbalKeeping time and adding grooveSharp, “chick”

You’re probably still wondering, ‘why do drummers have so many cymbals?’ considering that was just 3 types of cymbals.

It’s essential for drummers to have a variety of cymbals to create different textures and layers in their sound.

This diversity allows them to convey the emotion and energy of the music effectively. For instance, a ballad may have gentler crashes and subtle hi-hat work, while an up-tempo rock song might require more dynamic cymbals to drive the music forward (CRASHES!).

In addition to the main types of cymbals mentioned, there are specialized ones, such as splash cymbalschina cymbals, and effects cymbals. These can add unique accents and sonic flavors 😋 to a drummer’s palette and further enhance the musical experience.

A drummer’s skill in utilizing various cymbals and rhythmic patterns can significantly impact the overall feel of a song, making it vital for them to have an arsenal of cymbals.

Ultimately, the drummer’s collection of cymbals is essential in shaping a band’s sound and delivering a captivating performance.

Cymbals 101: Basic Knowledge

Distinguishing Cymbal Types

There are several types of cymbals, each serving a unique purpose in a drummer’s setup. The main cymbal types are:

  1. Hi-hats: A pair of cymbals mounted together on a stand, played with a pedal or with sticks.
  2. Crashes: Provide an accent or short burst of sound, and come in various sizes and thicknesses.
  3. Rides: Designed for a steady rhythm with a clear, defined stick sound without overpowering the music.
  4. Splashes: Smaller cymbals, used for quick, bright accents.
  5. China cymbals: With their distinct, upturned edges, they produce a dark, trashy sound, often used for accents and effects.

Cymbal Sizes and Its Effects

Cymbal sizes directly impact their sound, with the diameter ranging from 6 to 24 inches. Here’s a quick guide on how size affects the sound:

  • Smaller cymbals (6-14 inches) produce higher pitches, faster attack, and shorter sustain. They work best for accents and quick, bright sounds.
  • Medium-sized cymbals (15-18 inches) offer a balanced blend of sound characteristics. They are versatile and utilized in various musical contexts.
  • Larger cymbals (19-24 inches) are known for their lower pitch, longer sustain, and bigger sound. They suit well for providing a solid foundation in a drum set.

Materials Used in Cymbal Production

Why do drummers have so many cymbals and what are they made of? The materials commonly used in cymbal production are:

  1. Bronze: Composed of copper and tin, bronze offers a wide range of tonal qualities depending on the ratios used. The most popular ratios are B20 (80% copper, 20% tin) and B8 (92% copper, 8% tin).
  2. Brass: Less expensive than bronze, brass cymbals have a more basic, metallic sound, often used in beginner or budget-friendly drum sets.
  3. Nickel silver: A blend of nickel, copper, and zinc, these cymbals offer an affordable option with a decent sound.
  4. B20 bronze is known for its warm, rich sound and is traditionally used in high-quality cymbals.
  5. B8 bronze provides a more bright and cutting sound, often found in entry-level and mid-range cymbals.

Acoustic Versus Electric Cymbals

Lastly, let’s discuss the difference between acoustic and electric cymbals:

  • Acoustic cymbals are the traditional, non-electric cymbals used in most drum sets. They are known for their dynamic range, expressiveness, and organic feel.
  • Electric cymbals are designed for an electronic drum kit and utilize sensors to trigger a digital sound module. They offer practical advantages, such as volume control, customization, and quiet practice options, but may lack the nuanced feel and natural sound of their acoustic counterparts.

Sound Matrices: The Role of Cymbals

Creating Different Tones

Drummers make use of the different cymbals to create a versatile sound matrix that adds depth and texture to the music.

By striking a cymbal in different spots with various intensity or combining cymbal types, a drummer can create a wide range of tones and effects. Likewise, cymbals can be used for accents and punctuating specific moments within a song.

  • Tip: The size and material composition of the cymbal can also impact its tonality. Larger cymbals usually produce deeper tones with more sustain, while smaller cymbals tend to have sharper and more focused sounds.

Cymbal Echo Management

Why do drummers have so many cymbals if they are so gosh darn loud??? Well, another critical aspect to consider when discussing the usage of cymbals by drummers is the management of echo. A drummer needs to control the resonance of their cymbals to prevent a muddy or chaotic sound.

Some ways drummers manage cymbal echo include:

  1. Using specialized tools like moon gel or other dampeners.
  2. Choosing cymbals with shorter sustain or more controlled resonance.
  3. Using techniques like choking to dampen the sound after a strike.

Cymbals help drummers create a richer and more nuanced sonic landscape due to their diverse sound dynamics, tonal possibilities, and echo management.

Their distinct qualities empower drummers to convey a wide range of emotions and textures within their music.

Playing Techniques and Cymbal Choices

Importance of Correct Cymbal Strike

When it comes to playing drums, proper cymbal striking techniques are crucial. Each cymbal produces a unique sound that can drastically change the rhythm and feel of a song.

Drummers often have multiple cymbals in their setup to accommodate various styles of music and desired tonal effects.

Different cymbal strikes can produce diverse sounds. For example, a full, resonant tone is achieved by striking the cymbal in its sweet spot, usually located near the edge.

Conversely, striking the cymbal closer to the bell creates a sharper, more focused sound. Drummers must therefore possess a thorough understanding of their cymbals and proper striking techniques to achieve the desired sound.

Drum Sticks Affecting Cymbal Sounds

Stick choice plays a significant role in shaping the sound of a cymbal. A drummer may use various sticks to achieve a particular tonal quality depending on factors such as:

  • Stick Material (wood, plastic, metal, etc.)
  • Tip (round, oval, pointed, etc.)
  • Thickness
  • Length

Here is a table showcasing how these factors affect cymbal sounds:

Stick MaterialSound Effect
WoodWarm, full sound with moderate brightness
PlasticBrighter, more defined sound with less body
MetalSharp, cutting sound with high definition

Additionally, the shape of the stick tip also has a substantial impact on the cymbal’s sound.

Tip ShapeSound Effect
RoundMore focused attack with bright tone
OvalBalanced attack with a blend of brightness and warmth
PointedSharp, precise attack with high definition

By mastering various cymbal striking techniques and understanding the importance of stick choices, a drummer can skillfully manipulate different cymbals’ sounds to add depth, dynamics, and interest to their performance.

Drumming Genres and Cymbal Utilization

Cymbals in Jazz

Jazz drummers often rely on their cymbals to provide the desired sound palette. For jazz musicians, the ride cymbal is crucial for creating a swinging, rhythmical pattern.

They also frequently employ the use of thin crash cymbals to help accentuate the nuances in the music. Though, in jazz music, lower volume is a by-product of thinner cymbals.

List of common cymbals used in Jazz:

  • Ride cymbal
  • Hi-hat
  • Crash cymbal
  • Sizzle cymbal

The sizzle cymbal is a unique cymbal mostly used in jazz music. It adds a rivet or chain to a standard cymbal to produce a distinct sizzle effect.

The variety of cymbals in jazz music allows drummers to have more control over their expression, thus enhancing the overall performance.

Cymbals in Rock and Pop

Rock and pop drummers need to produce a powerful and loud sound, which is where cymbals come into play.

These genres demand a more robust crash cymbal than jazz music does. The consistent use of the hi-hat is also integral in maintaining a steady tempo.

my cymbals
My cymbal setup – a couple crashes (prototype splash cymbal on one crash), a ride cymbal, and some hi-hats

Most popular cymbals in Rock and Pop:

  1. Crash cymbal
  2. Ride cymbal
  3. Hi-hat
  4. China cymbal

The China cymbal is an important aspect of rock drumming. It produces a sharp, almost trashy sound that complements the aggressive nature of the genre.

The extensive use of cymbals in rock music and pop music gives drummers the ability to punctuate moments and add emphasis where needed.

I used to have different china cymbals (because I always broke them) for YEARS! I miss it sometimes. 😢I definitely recommend for anyone looking to add some flair to their cymbal sound. I don’t fit the question, ‘why do drummers have so many cymbals’? because I could have way more than I do. LOL!

Cymbals in Classical Music

Classical music requires a nuanced approach to cymbal usage. Drummers are mostly called upon during orchestral performances to accentuate dramatic moments or evoke specific emotions. The suspended cymbal is the most dominant cymbal in classical music.

Cymbals in Classical Music
Suspended cymbal
Crash cymbals (hand cymbals)
Finger cymbals

Suspended cymbals are used for various crescendo and decrescendo effects. Classical drummers also use crash cymbals or hand cymbals as a popular choice for adding drama and excitement to musical compositions.

Additionally, finger cymbals create a subtle yet effective sound required for certain orchestral pieces. The use of cymbals in classical music serves a significant purpose in elevating the performance and adding an element of depth to the overall composition.

Stage versus Studio: Cymbal Arrangement

Stage Cymbal Setup

When performing live, drummers often have an expansive cymbal setup to allow for greater versatility and creative expression. They may include:

  • Crash cymbals: Used for accenting beats and creating a sharp, explosive sound.
  • Ride cymbals: Producing a sustain-heavy, shimmering sound, they are ideal for playing rhythm patterns.
  • Hi-hats: Comprising two cymbals mounted on a stand, they can be played closed, open, or manipulated by foot pedal pressure. Typically, they’re right next to the snare drum
  • Splash cymbals: Small and quick, they add bright, high-pitched accents.
  • China cymbals: Possessing a unique, dark tone, they are used for adding dramatic accents and unconventional sounds. Metal drummers have these close to their floor tom a lot.

Note: Cymbal sizes and types can vary significantly, depending on the drummer’s individual preferences and playing style.

Studio Cymbal Setup

In a studio setting, drummers might adopt a more minimal approach to their cymbal arrangement. This could be due to factors such as:

  1. Recording clarity: Fewer cymbals in close proximity can decrease potential for sound bleeding or audio interference.
  2. Controlled sound: Maintaining a smaller array simplifies controlling and fine-tuning of cymbal sounds during recording.
  3. Consistency: Drummers may choose specific cymbals that complement the genre or mood of the recorded music.
  4. Budget and space constraints: Limited studio space or budget may influence the scale of the cymbal setup.

Nevertheless, each drummer has their distinctive preferences, and whether on stage or in the studio, their cymbal arrangement will be a reflection of their individual style and the demands of the music they create.

Cymbal Maintenance and Care

As a drummer, taking care of your cymbals is essential to ensure their longevity and maintain optimal sound quality. In this section, we’ll cover some tips on cleaning your cymbals and storing them correctly.

Cleaning Your Cymbals

Why do drummers have so many cymbals, won’t they get dirty? You’re exactly right! Cymbals can accumulate dirt and grime over time, which can affect their sound and appearance.

To keep your cymbals in top shape, follow these cleaning steps:

  1. Remove any loose dust or dirt: Using a soft, dry brush or cloth, gently remove any surface dust or dirt from your cymbals.
  2. Apply a cymbal cleaner: Choose a cleaner specifically designed for cymbals. Apply it to a soft cloth and gently rub it onto the surface of the cymbal, following the grooves.
  3. Buff and polish: Using another clean, dry cloth, buff and polish your cymbals by following the grooves. This will help maintain the brilliant shine of the metal.
  4. Inspect for damages: While cleaning, take a moment to inspect your cymbals for any cracks or keyholing. Addressing these issues early can help extend the life of your cymbals.

Remember, it’s important not to clean your cymbals too often, as excessive cleaning can damage their patina and thin the material.

Storing Your Cymbals Correctly

Proper storage is essential to protect your cymbals from damage and preserve their sound quality. Here are some tips for storing your cymbals correctly:

  • Use a cymbal bag or case: Invest in a high-quality cymbal bag or case with padded compartments to keep your cymbals safe during transport or storage.
  • Store cymbals vertically: Storing your cymbals vertically will minimize the risk of warping or bending. Use a cymbal rack or stand designed to hold cymbals in an upright position.
  • Avoid stacking: Stacking cymbals can cause uneven pressure and may lead to cracks or warping over time. If you must stack your cymbals, use separation sleeves or layers of soft cloth between each cymbal to prevent direct contact.

By regularly cleaning and properly storing your cymbals, you can ensure they continue to create amazing sound for years to come.

Selecting the Right Cymbals

When choosing cymbals for a drum set, it’s essential to consider the various types and their distinct sounds when answering the question, ‘why do drummers have so many cymbals?

Each cymbal serves a unique purpose, and selecting the right ones can significantly impact your overall drumming experience.

Crash cymbals, for instance, are known for their explosive sound and are often used to punctuate musical passages.

On the other hand, ride cymbals produce a more consistent, “shimmering” tone, frequently employed as a rhythmic backbone. Moreover, hi-hat cymbals create a crisp sound when struck closed and a more open, “sizzling” effect when played slightly open.

Here is a quick summary of traditional cymbals and the most common sizes you’ll see

  • Crash Cymbals: Explosive and loud – 14″ – 20″
  • Ride Cymbals: Consistent, shimmering tone – 18″ – 24″ (a good ride cymbal is big and pingy, holding a buttery rhythmic pattern)
  • Hi-Hat Cymbals: Crisp, sizzling sounds (12″ – 15″ although there are smaller and larger-sized hats on the market)

The material and size of cymbals also influence their sound. For example, a brass cymbal tends to be more affordable and suitable for beginner drummers, while a bronze cymbal often delivers a fuller, richer tone preferred by experienced musicians.

Likewise, larger cymbals produce lower, more resonant tones, while smaller ones generate higher pitches.

When selecting cymbals, it’s essential to consider the music style you plan to play. It’s all personal preference, but different sizes are going to help mold your overall sound.

Rock drummers might prioritize larger crash cymbals for their dramatic sound, while a jazz percussionist could lean towards smaller, thinner cymbals for more nuanced articulations.

As your drumming skills and musical preferences evolve, you can always upgrade or expand your cymbal collection to suit your needs.

Lastly, consider your budget when choosing cymbals. It’s possible to find excellent cymbal packs without breaking the bank.

As you progress in your drumming journey, investing in higher quality cymbals becomes more justifiable. Keeping these factors in mind will help you select the right cymbals to elevate your drumming experience.

The Evolution of Cymbals

Cymbals have been part of human history for thousands of years. Their journey began in ancient civilizations such as EgyptGreece, and China, where they were used primarily in religious and ceremonial contexts.

Over time, the cymbal evolved to become a versatile instrument, playing a crucial role in various music genres.

During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, European composers began to incorporate cymbals into orchestral music.

It was in the 19th century that cymbals started to make their way into drum kits, becoming an essential component of popular music. Here’s a brief timeline of the evolution of cymbals:

  • 2000 BCE: The initial appearance of ancient cymbals in Egypt and the Middle East
  • 600 – 250 BCE: Use of cymbals in Greek theater music
  • 500 – 700 CE: Spread of cymbals to China, where they became known as bo and were used in Buddhist rituals
  • 17th – 18th Century: Integration of cymbals into Western classical music
  • 19th – 20th Century: Development of modern cymbals and their incorporation into the drum kit through different ways

As cymbals became more popular in different music styles, manufacturers began producing various sizes and types, each with unique sound characteristics.

This is why drummers have so many cymbals today. The development needed to happen for drummers to be able to accumulate all kinds of cymbals!

Cymbals.. Do You Have Enough?

Drummers today are incorporating electronic drums, acoustic drums together (hybrid), along with electronic cymbals and acoustic ones. The most common reason may vary, but you can just do a lot more as a drummer.

I hope I helped you to answer the question ‘why do drummers have so many cymbals?’ I know this post was long, but it shined some light on the question.

Accumulate Your Collection And Prosper!

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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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