suspended cymbal

Also:       crash cymbal      splash cymbal      ride cymbal      

Title: demo: suspended cymbal; David Miller, percussion Format: DAT

Contextual Associations

The suspended cymbal is a metal bell-cymbal idiophone of European origin that is today found throughout the world wherever Western orchestral, band, and popular music idioms have been disseminated. Though it is basically one half of a cymbal pair or crash cymbals, it is sounded by striking rather than by concussion, and its apex (the central dome) is relatively inactive while its rim vibrates most energetically--like a bell. For these reasons it is referred to here as a bell-cymbal. Suspended cymbals come in a variety of sizes, serve a variety of musical functions in a range of stylistic idioms, and go by a number of names; this entry is exploring the label ‘suspended cymbal’ as both a generic term and the name of a specific instrument. In orchestralband, and percussion ensembles this type of bell-cymbal is usually called a ‘suspended cymbal.’ In jazz and popular idioms a variety of suspended cymbal types are used--‘crash,’ ‘ride,’ and ‘splash’--as components of the drum set, a composite instrument that includes other idiophones (see hi-hat cymbals) and membranophones (see kick bass, toms, and snare drum) played by a single percussionist (see detail photo on this page and listen to audio examples on the ensemble pages for Jazz Combo and Jazz Big Band). Wherever any of the above mentioned idioms of music have spread around the world the suspended cymbals can be found performed by both amateur and professional musicians.


The suspended cymbal, made of a copper-tin-silver alloy, has a hole drilled at the apex of its dome, and a pin at the top of its stand passes through this hole to hold the cymbal in place. The suspended cymbal pictured in the first gallery shot is 18 inches in diameter and is mounted in such a way as to be appropriate for use in orchestral, band, and percussion ensembles. The other three gallery shots are of types of suspended cymbals found in drum sets: 3 crash and 2 splash (second image), splash mounted on stand (third image), and ride mounted on stand (fourth image). Though manufacturers make all types of suspended cymbals in a range of diameters, the crash pictured in the second gallery image are 19, 16, and 14 inches in diameter and the splash 12 and 10 inches in diameter; the splash in the third gallery image is 10 inches, and the ride 20 inches (fourth gallery shot). For each type of cymbal manufacturers also produce models in varying thicknesses, which affect the character of their attack, sustain, and timbre. A variety of stick types can be used singly or in pairs to strike the cymbal, usually near its rim.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

For orchestral, band and percussion ensemble use the suspended cymbal rests horizontally about waist high on top of its vertical stand and is played by a standing percussionist usually with matched sticks in both hands. It is used for coloristic effects such as sustained crescendo rolls or loud crashes, the volume and brightness of which depend in part on the chosen type of beaters (wood drumsticks, felt-tipped mallets, or brushes). The various drum set suspended cymbals are mounted on vertical stands that are topped off with booms and/or pivot joints that allow the seated drummer to tilt each cymbal at a slight angle from horizontal. Drum set players also use a variety of sticks on these cymbals. The crash and splash cymbals are generally used for loud punctuations, while the ride cymbal, especially in the jazz idiom, is used to play rhythmic patterns with a clear metallic sound at an even dynamic level. 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 cymbals in general are ancient instruments of uncertain origin, the suspended cymbals used today in cosmopolitan musical circles derive from cymbals 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 suspended 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.

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.

Robinson, J. Bradford. 1984. “Drum set [drum kit, trap set].” NGDMI v.1: 612-613.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.242.121 idiophone--individual suspended bell suspended from the apex: struck from the outside (no striker is attached inside the bell), there being a separate beater

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

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

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - various types

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


18 in. diameter (first instrument) 16 in. diameter (second instrument) 20 in. diameter (third instrument) 10 in. diameter (fourth instrument)

Primary Materials





18 in.

Entry Author

Roger Vetter