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What Are Cymbals?

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  • Written By: Jay Leone
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2014
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A cymbal is a circular percussion instrument that creates a sound when hit by a drumstick or crashed against another cymbal. There are many different types of cymbal, including the hi-hat cymbal, splash cymbal, and ride cymbal. A basic drum kit usually features three cymbals. Bronze and copper are two of the more popular metals used in cymbal construction.

There are two primary methods of producing these instruments: casting and stamping. The casting method involves pouring liquid metal into forms closely resembling the final dimensions of a cymbal, while stamping involves using machines to press out the shape of a cymbal from a sheet of metal. Some of these instruments go through a high-temperature heat treatment process designed to add certain sound characteristics to the instrument. Metal cymbal models can be made harder through heat treatment processes. Heat-treating a cymbal can also add flexibility to the cymbal.

A cymbal requires extensive hammering to attain the ideal pattern and shape needed to produce crisp sounds. Hand-hammering individual cymbals can be exceedingly difficult. Many manufacturers employ pneumatic hammers for fast, consistent hammering. A cymbal’s surface grooves are most often applied with a metal lathe machine.

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The hi-hat cymbal is often used as a primary timekeeper for a band. High-hats consist of two cymbals that sit atop a specially designed stand. In a high-hat system, the bottom cymbal is stationary while a foot-operated pedal moves the top cymbal up and down on a spring along the top of the stand. The typical high-hat cymbal is constructed to a diameter of between 13 and 14 inches (about 33 and 35.6 centimeters). In the average high-hat system, the bottom cymbal should be slightly thicker than the top one to ensure a crisp sound is produced.

Manufacturers produce most ride cymbals to diameters ranging between 18 and 24 inches (45.7 and 61 centimeters). This type of cymbal can provide a steady rhythm and is usually the largest cymbal in a drum kit. They feature domed centers and can vary in thickness. The thickness of a ride cymbal as well as the type of mallet or stick used to strike it influence the tone and volume of the sound produced when struck. Thicker models typically produce a sharper and louder sound than thinner models.

Other popular types of cymbals include splash cymbals, China cymbals, and crash cymbals. Short, high-pitched sounds are produced by the average splash cymbal. The China cymbal features upturned edges and produces crisp, explosive tones, while crash cymbal is designed to accent rhythm.

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