antique cymbals

Also:       crotales      

Title: demo: antique cymbals; David Miller, percussion. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

Antique cymbals, also called crotales, is a concussion idiophone. It is an auxiliary percussion instrument used sparingly in the orchestra and more regularly in works for percussion ensembles. Some early music groups also incorporate this instrument into their arrangements. In this article we are discussing only the single pair version of antique cymbals or crotales--see the separate entry for crotales in which a chromatic set of struck discs is discussed.


The antique cymbals consist of two identical, thick, domed plates of bronze (a copper and tin alloy) with almost flat rims. Each plate of the pair is 2.4 inches in diameter. Due to the general vessel/dome shape of each plate, it is actually their broad rims that come into contact and that vibrate with the greatest energy, much like a bell. 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 player holds one plate in each hand by its strap, and either brings their faces into contact with a passing motion or holds them side by side with their faces down and swings the rim of one against the rim of the other. Either way, a delicate ringing tone with a well-defined pitch is produced. It is typically used as a coloristic effect. For a video illustrating the player-instrument interface for this instrument, view the Philharmonia Orchestra website chapter on percussion [skip to 14:16 in the video for the segment pertaining specifically to the antique cymbals].


Cymbals like the one pictured here have been found in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. Similar instruments are found in many Asian music traditions, although often utilized as a time-keeping instrument. Modern versions of the antique cymbals have been used in the orchestra only since the 19th century. Most of these are manufactured by companies in, or originating in, Turkey. 

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.

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: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


2.4 in. diameter

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter