crash cymbals

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Title: demo: crash cymbal; David Miller, percussion. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The crash cymbal is a metal concussion idiophone of Europe with origins in Turkey. It goes by many names in the English-speaking world, including, but not limited to: orchestral cymbals, hand cymbals, clash cymbals, and cymbal pair. This pair of cymbals is used in the orchestra, in military, marching and concert bands, and in percussion ensembles. Wherever these idioms have spread throughout the cosmopolitan world, crash cymbals can today be found. It is one of several instruments on which band and orchestral percussionists, be they are professionals or amateurs, are expected to be proficient.


The crash cymbal consists of two identical, thin, domed plates made of bronze (a copper and tin alloy, sometimes including some silver). The pair of cymbals pictured here is 18 inches in diameter but manufacturers make them in a variety of sizes (from as small as 8 inches to as large as 24 inches in diameter) and thicknesses (which affect their attack, sustain, and brightness of sound). Due to the general vessel/dome shape of each plate, it is actually their thin, broad rims that come into contact and that vibrate with the greatest energy. Each cymbal has a hole drilled in the apex of its dome that allows for the attachment of a handle strap. 

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A standing player holds one plate in each hand by its strap, the open faces of the two cymbals parallel to one another. Depending on the type of stroke to be executed the pair of cymbals can be held anywhere between vertical and horizontal. To produce a full ringing sound, the face of one cymbal is brought into contact with the other with an oblique passing motion. This can be done with considerable force to create a powerful metallic sound of indefinite pitch, often at climactic musical moments or to accentuate a strong recurring beat. A more delicate sound can be produced by rubbing the rim on one of the plates in a circular motion around the face of the other plate. A player also must develop a damping technique to suddenly silence the cymbals after a clash. For a video illustrating the player-instrument interface for this instrument, view the Philharmonia Orchestra website chapter on percussion [skip to 10:48 in the video for the segment pertaining specifically to cymbals].


Though the crash cymbal is an ancient instrument of uncertain origin, the instruments used today in cosmopolitan musical circles were introduced to Europe from Ottoman Turkey in the 18th century. Indeed, even to the present day the source of the majority of the world’s cymbals are two rival companies (Zildjian and Sabian) that grew out of a single Turkish family tradition (that of the Zildjian family).

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.

“Instruments.”  Philharmonia Orchestra website, accessed September 14, 2015:

Montagu, Jeremy. 2002. Timpani and Percussion. New Haven: Yale University Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.142 idiophone--cymbals: vessel clappers with everted rim are struck against each other

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: clapping

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: plate - with concentric contouring

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded collectively

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: concussing - direct

Sound exciting agent: colliding sonorous objects

Energy input motion by performer: clapping

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


18 in. diameter

Primary Materials

leather - tanned




18” HH Viennese Concert Crash Pair

Entry Author

Roger Vetter