Role of Cymbals in Drum Kit

Drum kit (or drum set or trap set) consists of drums, cymbals and at times other percussion instruments, such as a cowbell, wood block, chimes or tambourines, set for the aid of a single drummer to manage it all by himself. A typical cymbal consists of bell, bow, edge or rim.

Cymbals (Fr. cymbales; Dutch Bekkens; Ger. Becken; Ital. piatti or cinelli; Por. pratos) are the current percussion apparatus. Cymbals of today are of indefinite pitch while small cup shaped cymbals designed on ancient examples sound a definite note. Cymbals generally are made of thin round plates of various cymbal alloys.

There is extensive use of cymbals in modern orchestras and many military, concert, marching and other bands. Although added in later part of the history of the drum kit, yet the most basic drum kit usually contains at least one suspended cymbal and a pair of hi hat cymbals. The role of cymbals in drum kit has become that much invincible.

Usually a typical cymbal is made from two large, somewhat concave brass plates. Cymbals are integrated with leather hand straps and is built and shaped in a way that when they are crashed together, only the edges touch and not the interior. Basically, cymbals are untuned instruments but they are used to produce a wide range of sound effects.

Cymbals come in lots of size and shape. There are types so small that they are played with the fingers only. Drumsticks or mallets are also struck to make the cymbals sound while it is suspended on a string or stand.

The role of cymbals in drum kit depends largely on the type of service they provide. The prominent types of cymbals available today are: orchestral cymbals, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal and ancient cymbals.

Orchestral cymbals
The chief role of cymbals in drum kit is to make the rhythm and to create bizarre, extraordinary effects or adding military color. The shrill notes make a hue impact against a full orchestra playing fortissimo. Cymbals are particularly suited for signifying frenzy, fury or bacchanalian revels.

Crash cymbals
The role of cymbals in drum kit has customarily been gone along with the bass drum playing an identical part. There are instances that during the composition of older music the composer at times provided just one part for this pair of instruments. When the bass drum remained silent they bypassed it with writing senza piatti or piatti soli (Italian, without cymbals or cymbals only).

The modern rule is for the instruments to have self determining parts. When this combination is played loudly, it is an effective way to highlight a note as the two instruments playing together put in both very low and very high frequency ranges and provide a satisfying crash-bang-wallop.

Suspended cymbal
The role of cymbals in drum kit has the ability to produce bright and slicing tones when vehemently struck, and present a creepy clear windy sound when played quietly. A tremolo or roll (played with couple of mallets swapping and striking on other sides of the cymbal) can be used to build in volume from nearly inaudible to an irresistible climax.

Ancient cymbals
The role for cymbals in drum kit is sedate. Their use is rarely called for in modern composition. The timbre used is completely different as it resembles small hand bells or of the notes of the keyed harmonica.