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A ride cymbal is a cymbal that is part of a drum set and has a sustained sound when struck. The reason it's called a ride cymbal is because drummers typically use it to "ride" with the music or use it for a maintained rhythmic pattern. The thickness of these cymbals will determine the different sounds it can make. Where the drummer places the ride cymbal depends on what is comfortable and his or her specific style. Certain types of ride cymbals are available depending on what kind of music styles played and the performing venue.
Ride cymbals should be distinguished from another common type of cymbal called a crash cymbal. Unlike a crash cymbal that makes a more accented sound, the ride cymbal is used for a softer sound while providing continuous rhythm backup in a band or small combination of instruments. Hi-hat cymbals that are played with a pedal are usually used in conjunction with ride cymbals to provide the steady rhythmic accompaniment.
Different degrees of sound can be made with ride cymbals, depending on the thickness of them. Those that are thinner give more of a shimmering sound for smaller venues, and those that are thicker give more of an accented sound for larger venues. Standard widths are 18 to 22 inches (46 to 56 cm). The larger models can produce the loudest sounds.
It is customary for a ride cymbal to be placed on the drummer’s right, slightly behind the floor tom. For a drummer who is left-handed, it might be better for the ride cymbal to be placed on the left. Overall, anywhere the drummer’s dominant hand can easily reach it is the best. No set rules exist on where it needs to be placed, because using a ride cymbal properly goes strictly by personal comfort and style.
A rock drummer should consider buying industry standard ride cymbals. The most popular are ones made of medium to thin weight. These provide more power in the cymbal’s sound for rock concerts. Many popular brands exist and have different variations available that create more of a "ping," or a sharper sound, when they are struck.
More expensive ride cymbals are made from higher-quality materials. Many rock drummers prefer these because of the louder sounds that they provide. A flat ride cymbal is a popular choice with jazz drummers because of its quietness, which is because it has no bell in the center of the cymbal.
I remember hearing a rumor that Keith Moon, the drummer for the Who, only used ride cymbals in his usual drum set-up. I watched some old footage of a Who concert and it looked like he had three or four ride cymbals and no crash cymbals. But I later found a site that had Moon's drum arrangements on a map and it showed at least two crash cymbals and only two ride cymbals. So I guess he really did use crash cymbals after all. Can ride cymbals actually be used as crash cymbals anyway? I'd think they'd be too heavy.
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