Also:       antique cymbals      

Title: NEXUS--Rain Tree, by Toru Takemitsu; NEXUS. Label: NEXUS. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 10262. Track: 4.

Contextual Associations

The crotales (also referred to as ‘antique cymbals’) is an idiophone of European origin comprised of a set of metal disc-shaped plaques. Its sounding objects are graduated in size and arranged in keyboard fashion. It is an auxiliary percussion instrument used sparingly in the orchestra and somewhat more regularly in works for percussion ensembles


This crotales set consists of 26 bronze, disc-shaped plaques, 13 mounted on each of two metal bars. Each plaque might be described as a thick disc with a central and integral cylindrical stump (about .5 inch in both diameter and height) protruding from one of its faces. Each crotale roughly approximates the shape of sn antique cymbal, but the latter have a hollow dome at their center that makes it a vessel of sorts. Each crotale instead has only a hole drilled through its solid stump-like center for mounting, no cavity to speak of. The cymbal-bells are graduated in size, ranging from 5 inches (lowest-pitched) to 3 inches (highest pitched) in diameter. Each support bar has 13 piers that terminate in an upward-pointing metal rod with a threaded end. The hole in a cymbal-bell is slipped over a rod, stump-side first, with small rubber washers separating it from its pier and a wing nut that is screwed onto the end of the rod to hold the unit stationary. The support beams are designed to arrange the crotales in the fashion of a keyboard with ‘white-key’ notes in a single un-gapped row and ‘black-key’ notes elevated slightly in a second row and clustered in groups of two and three discs. Each horizontal support bar is screwed to the top of a metal stand. Acoustically only the thick rim of each crotale is active when struck.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The pictured crotales is a two-part set, each part tuned to a closed chromatic octave (the larger one C4 - C5, the smaller C5 - C6) and together covering a range of two octaves (C4 - C6). Depending on the needs of the music being performed, only the lower or upper octave might be called for, or both octaves. In the latter case, the percussionist can choose to position the two units in a single row or, as pictured, the lower octave in front of the higher octave. Hard rod-beaters of wood of metal are used to lightly tap the rims of the crotales.


The design of the crotales pictured here is of fairly recent origin, perhaps from the end of the 20th century. While manufactures have been making chromatic sets of antique cymbals for a longer time, in the past percussionists would need to improvise an arrangement of single cymbals selected from such sets to meet the requirements of the work being performed. It is the Turkish-based Zildjian family that came up with the two-octave keyboard crotales and the disc-like redesign of the cymbals themselves seen here.

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

________. 1984. “Cymbals.” NGDMI v.1: 529-532.

Brindle, Reginald Smith. 1991. Contemporary Percussion. London: Oxford University Press.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holland, James. 1978. Percussion. New York: Schirmer Books.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: West Asia

Nation: Turkey

Formation: cosmopolitan (Euro-American)

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.222 idiophone--set of percussion plaques of different pitch are combined to form a single instrument, struck with a non-sonorous object (hand, stick, striker)

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: plate - flat

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - metal rod

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


37.6 in. length (bottom row) 29.3 in. length (top row) 4 in. to 5 in. diameters (discs on larger unit) 3 in. to 4 in. diameters (discs on smaller unit)

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter