Cymbals… You know those the shiny pieces of metal that represent an exclamation mark in a drummer’s bag. I’m thinking about those rock star intros and endings where the drummer repeatedly strikes the cymbals as they crescendo and build intensity in volume.

Yes, you’ll see drummers hit these alloy metal discs quite often. A typical drum set will nearly always feature the three most common types of cymbals: hi hats, a crash cymbal, and a ride cymbal. This is the basic cymbal pack that will allow you to play most styles of music effectively. After that, you can go crazy with trying other different timbres of cymbals.

Now, let’s dive a little bit deeper into the different types of cymbals, since we barely scratched the surface here.

Hi-hat cymbals

Without a doubt, one of your most important cymbals in a drum kit is going to be your hi hat cymbals. These bad boys are the ones that hold your rhythm foundation together like glue! The hi hat is played in steady rhythmic patterns alongside the kick and snare drum. They’re the timekeepers.

Now you might ask, why do I see more than one? Hi hat cymbals come in pairs, and usually the bottom is a tiny bit larger than the top. The top is fastened onto the hi hat stand with a clutch. You can open and close the two cymbals with a foot pedal at the bottom of the hi hat stand. When this is closed tightly, it will give you a tight “tick” sound. Open the cymbals to let them ring. The foot pedal controls how “open” or “closed” you want your sound.

You’ll see many drummers utilize the open hi hat sound to help dictate the pattern of their rhythms.

Crash cymbals

Ahh yes, the cymbal with more noise complaints than any other resident in the cymbal bag.

Crash cymbals are often played at the end of a drum fill or to punctuate parts of a rhythm or song… But feel free to go crazy and use them wherever you want. And of course, they come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small accent cymbals to larger, more powerful sustaining ones.

The size of these cymbals help dictate how long the cymbal will sustain or ring out for. Thinner cymbals sound washier than thick ones, and larger cymbals often have more resonance. You’ll see crash cymbals range anywhere from 8 to 24 inches, but often it’ll be somewhere between the range of 14 and 18 inches depending on the style of music you play.

Not sure about how you should decide on a size? Think about it like this:

  • Smaller cymbals = shorter decay
  • Larger cymbals = longer decay

A good place to start would be to try a 16- or 17-inch crash cymbal. Once you get an idea of the sound you want, you can decide if you want a shorter or longer sustain.

Many drummers use multiple crash cymbals in their kit, giving them different variations of tone. You’ll see one located above the hi hat and the other to the right of the floor tom — but of course we all know the ones who go into uncharted territory and have far more than just two crash cymbals.

Ride cymbals

The biggest of the “standard” cymbals is the ride cymbal. Hi-hats and ride cymbals share the same purpose, which is keeping a steady pattern while the kick and snare drum do their thing. When playing ride cymbals, you’ll hear clear and articulate ping which allows you to hear your strikes more definitively. They also ring out a lot longer than the hi hat, which can help you swap up the feel and add some extra expression to your playing.

Ride cymbals range in diameter somewhere between 18 and 22 inches with a medium thickness. Thicker ride cymbals offer more volume and sustain in their tone, which allows the sound to ring out for longer. And, obviously, thicker ride cymbals can take a bigger beating for more durability.

However, thinner ride cymbals will have a faster attack and more direct sound. Depending on the genre, whether it’s jazz, funk, or even blues, you might find that using a thinner ride will serve you better. This is where experimenting and finding your sound gets exciting! Just don’t hit it too hard…

There are three part of a ride cymbal that can help you access unique sounds:

  • Shoulder – edge of the ride cymbal (thinner shoulders of a ride can give it “crash-like” tonality; these are usually called crash ride cymbals).
  • Bow – the top surface of the cymbal where your drumsticks are going to hit the most.
  • Bell – the bump in the center of the ride. Tap it for a bell-like sound.

Be sure to try out different ride cymbals (and hit different areas on the cymbals) to see what sounds best. You’ll see that rock/pop drummers will make different choices than jazz drummers when it comes to choosing ride cymbals because they’re trying to get completely different sounds.

Splash cymbals

Arguably some of the coolest cymbals to bring your hits and accents to life are splash cymbals. Those who love them will often have them spread out across their kit, while others who might not prefer this unique sound will tend to steer away from using them altogether. They’re not one of the “standard” cymbals you’ll find on a kit. It’s more of an acquired taste…

If you look at splash cymbals, you’ll see they’re much smaller, anywhere between 6 and 12 inches. As mentioned previously, smaller cymbals will have a shorter decay time, so it makes sense why splash cymbals work perfectly for accents. Next time you play a splash cymbal, you’ll hear the sound it makes and know why they called it that. They’re great!

Splash cymbals have a lot of flexibility when it comes to placement among the other cymbals in the kit. Feel free to move it around and see where it feels best for your reach.

China cymbals

China cymbals are undoubtedly the bigger, louder, and more aggressive cymbal in the bag. You’ll see these cymbals usually mounted to the right of the floor tom. They look like an inverted crash cymbal.

After hitting one of those, you’ll notice a “trashier” sound that demands to be heard. As stated previously, the larger the cymbal, the more aggressive and louder your sound will be.

In the early 1900s, China cymbals came from China and Turkey. The cymbals produced in China marked a moodier and darker atmosphere, while Turkish cymbals had a warmer and more relaxed character.

Players like the legendary Gene Krupa played a smaller, bell-like China cymbal referred to as the mini-China or China splash. The popularity of the China cymbal rose in popularity once rock and roll skyrocketed.

Now you might be thinking, “Alright, well if this is loud and aggressive, then that must mean it’s for metal or hard rock music, right?”

Not necessarily. Many drummers of different genres have played China cymbals as part of their kit. Here are a just few names just to give you context:

  • Neil Peart
  • Billy Cobham
  • Shannon Larkin
  • Dave Lombardo

If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding the beautiful (yet trashy) texture of a China cymbal to your palette of percussion sounds!

Special effects cymbals

So far, we’ve covered a lot of ground, and there are many cymbals that don’t exactly fit into the categories we’ve discussed previously. These kinds are considered special effects cymbals.

These cymbals come in many different shapes and sizes. Some have holes in them, and some are even made from absolutely ridiculous metals and other materials. The cymbals with holes in them will have a “trashier” sound.

The best way to tell if you’ll like the sound of a special effects cymbal is to just give it a whack. You never know what kind of crazy sounds you’ll find to add to your kit.

Did any of these types of cymbals catch your eye?

The world of percussion instruments is pretty vast, as you can probably tell. What’s important is finding what resonates with you — literally! — and that allows you to perform whatever your creativity calls you to do.

A great way to build a foundation for your kit is to see what cymbals your favorite players use and narrow it down from there. Of course, you don’t want to sound exactly like your favorite drummers. So, once you get a baseline for what different cymbals sound like, experiment! That’s the fun part.

If you’re still not sure which types of cymbals are right for your drum set sound, reach out to the knowledgeable AMS Customer Service reps. Chatting about gear is our thing, and we’d be happy to help you find the gear that’s best for you. Feel free to reach out to our customer service team at 800-458-4076 with any other questions.