Cymbals are some of the basic percussive instruments for musicians. These metallic disks are round, and make an indefinite pitch when played. Cymbals are used in a variety of genres and in bands of many sizes from a full sized orchestra, to a three man rock band to a high school marching band.
The average drum kit uses at least three cymbals: the suspended cymbal and two hi-hat cymbals. Some of the most trusted brands in cymbal manufacturing are Zildjian cymbals, Sabian cymbals and Meinl cymbals. These cymbal purveyors are likely to start off a beginner's kit right.
A suspended cymbal, one of the important additions to a drum kit, is a horizontal cymbal that creates a "crash." These cymbals should be played with sponge or cord wrapped mallets, and are a favorite among drummers for their sharp notes when struck and spooky notes when played quietly. Drummers use the suspended cymbal to create the tremolo, or drum roll. The suspended cymbal is usually used in tandem with the bass drum, because the instruments combine high and low frequencies loudly.
The hi-hat cymbal is played by striking the foot petal and the foot petal at the same time. Two cymbals are mounted one on top of the other cymbal, with a rod that connects the cymbals to the foot petal. The bottom cymbal never moves, while the foot petal moves the top cymbal, with each press of the petal causing a collision between the two plates. The cymbals are easily adjusted for different heights. Changing the tension of the unit can alter the tone of the hi-hat cymbal.
The anatomy of the cymbal dictates the sound it creates. Suspended cymbals and hi-hat cymbals alike feature a hole in the center used to mount the cymbal. The raised area that surrounds this mounting place is called a bell, cup, or dome. This section of the cymbal creates a higher pitch when played. The area beyond the dome is called a bow, and is separated into the ride and crash areas. The ride area is the thicker area of the bow, closer to the dome, and it creates a deeper sound than the crash area. The crash area is the thinner edges, and these create a higher pitched sound.
When choosing a cymbal, keep thickness in mind. Thick cymbals are louder and deeper, and can maintain a sound for longer. They will be heavier, create a more crisp sound, and are easier to play. A thin cymbal sounds more full than a thick cymbal, and responds more quickly to being played.
Some of the smallest cymbals, the crotales, are based on designs of ancient cymbals. Cymbals found in Egyptian tombs were much smaller than normal cymbals, and produced a specific note when played. These cymbals are thicker, creating a sound that is much higher than the sound of normal cymbals. The timbre of the crotale is completely different than normal cymbals, sounding similar to hand bells when struck on the side.