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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Clash cymbals
Suworow-Kadetten in Bern 024.jpg
Two sets of clash cymbals in use in a marching band
Percussion instrument
Classification Percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification111.142
(Cymbals: Vessel clappers with everted rim)

Clash cymbals (also called concert cymbals, orchestral cymbals, or crash cymbals) are cymbals played in matched pairs by holding one cymbal in each hand and striking the two together.[1]

Zildjian clash cymbals after a big crash
Zildjian clash cymbals after a big crash
Paiste clash cymbals in use in a percussion section
Paiste clash cymbals in use in a percussion section
A pair of Sabian clash cymbals
A pair of Sabian clash cymbals

To differentiate this type of cymbal from a suspended cymbal, they are also called hand cymbals.[2]


In musical scores, clash cymbals are normally indicated as cymbals or sometimes simply C.C. If another type of cymbal, for example a suspended cymbal, is required in an orchestral score, then for historical reasons this is often also indicated cymbals. Some composers and arrangers use the plural cymbals or crash cymbals to indicate clash cymbals, with the singular cymbal to indicate a suspended cymbal.

Composers will often condense the clash cymbals and a suspended cymbal into the same part. There are a number of techniques used to indicate which is desired. Whenever with stick or with mallet is written, a suspended cymbal is used. A return to clash cymbals can be specified with the Italian phrase a due. Russian composers developed a notation to differentiate between clash and suspended cymbals in which a + (plus sign) is written over a note to be played on suspended cymbal and a ° (open circle) is written over a note to be played with clash cymbals.


Playing clash cymbals
Playing clash cymbals

Classical music

In an orchestral context, the cymbals are held by their straps with the thumb and index finger closest to the bell, not unlike holding a drumstick. The cymbals are held at a forty-five degree angle with the dominant hand holding the cymbal over the other.[3] To crash, there is a brief prep motion in which the arms move away from each other, before finally dropping the dominant handed cymbal on top of the bottom cymbal. Properly played crashes will be played like a flam where the bottom of the cymbals touch before meeting at the top. This is done to prevent any air pockets from occurring.[4]

There are several ways to hold the cymbals after the crash. Some practitioners hold the cymbals up and vertically with the inside of the cymbal facing the audience. This actually shortens the sustain as the sound is transferred up rather than out and causes the hands to be in contact with the cymbal. Other practitioners hold the cymbals parallel to the floor. This allows for the most sound to reach the audience as the sound is transferred horizontally.[5]

Marching arts

In a marching ensemble, such as a drum corps or marching band, cymbals will typically be marched as part of the drumline. The technique of marching cymbals is vastly different than that of orchestral cymbals. Typically, marching cymbalist employ a technique known as "Garfield grip" in which the hand is placed through the straps and twisted to let the palm rest on top of the bell. This technique allows for greater control over the instrument and for movements known as "visuals" – flashy maneuvers such as flips and twirls.[6]

There has been a trend in recent years to replace the cymbal line with cymbals in the front ensemble, although cymbals still remain a vital instrument in indoor percussion ensembles.

Hi-hat stands

A drum kit normally contains one pair of clash cymbals mounted on a pedal-operated hi-hat stand. These are commonly far smaller and lighter than hand-operated clash cymbals, and are played with drum sticks as well as clashed together using the pedal.

Weights, tones, and sizes

The traditional four-cornered strap knot
The traditional four-cornered strap knot

In the orchestra, clash cymbals are matched pairs. They are commonly found in three weights:

  • Francese, French, leggero, or light, the lightest and thinnest.
  • Viennese, medio, or medium.
  • Germanic, German, Wagnerian, pesante, or heavy, the heaviest and thickest.

Instruments in all weights range in size from 14" to 22" diameter. The smallest and thickest tend to have the higher pitch, the thinner ones allow for greater expression, and the largest the greatest volume. Clash cymbals are also used in military, stage, and marching bands, percussion ensembles, theatrical performances, and state and religious ceremonies. These range in size from orchestral cymbals all the way down to about 5" in diameter.

Straps and alternatives

Orchestral and most band clash cymbals have leather straps passed through the holes in their bells, leading to four tails which are knotted inside the bell, to allow the percussionist to hold them. Marching bands in addition use leather pads between the outsides of the bells and the percussionist's hands.

China type clash cymbals
China type clash cymbals
Playing china type clash cymbals
Playing china type clash cymbals

Toy clash cymbals and some others have wooden or plastic handles instead. China type clash cymbals need no handles as the squared bells can be held quite securely without them and are often joined by a cord through the holes in their bells which allows the percussionist to release the bells after striking, producing less damping and greater sustain, and swing the cymbals producing doppler effects.


  1. ^ Strain, James Allen. A Dictionary for the Modern Percussionist and Drummer. Lanham, Maryland. ISBN 978-0-8108-8692-6. OCLC 972798459.
  2. ^ "Suspended Cymbal vs. Hand Cymbals". Orchestration Online. 2018-08-18. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  3. ^ Epstein, Frank. (2007). Cymbalisms : a Complete Guide for the Orchestral Cymbal Player. Sonner, Robert., Boston Symphony Orchestra. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-0-634-06329-9. OCLC 166368068.
  4. ^ Cirone, Anthony J. (2006). The Art of Percussion Playing. Grover, Neil., Whaley, Garwood. (1st ed.). Galesville, MD: Meredith Music. p. 60. ISBN 1-57463-047-4. OCLC 70782197.
  5. ^ Petrella, Nick. (2002). The Ultimate Guide to Cymbals. New York, NY: C. Fischer. ISBN 0-8258-4905-5. OCLC 52365873.
  6. ^ Hannum, T. (1984). The Cymbal: Its Standard and Special Use in Contemporary Marching Ensembles. University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
This page was last edited on 10 June 2021, at 15:07
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