Cymbals Explained


These specialized brass-alloy plates are not all made the same. Cymbals range in size from 4″ – 26″ and up. They may all look similar, but have many different sounds and applications. This guide is created to help assist non-percussionists in finding the correct cymbals for their needs. All opinions expressed below are based upon my personal experience with each instrument.

Marching Band

zildjian stadium cymbals

Zildjian Stadium Series Cymbals

Marching cymbals need to be light. Lighter weight does equal less volume, but in a marching situation, the exchange is worth the sound sacrifice. The best all around marching cymbals I have used are the Zildjian 18″ Stadium Series cymbals. These are a great balance of sound and comfort, especially for high school students. These cymbals are also a good choice for middle school band programs solely for their comfortable weight. Smaller students can easily control this instrument.

Concert Band

Some directors prefer a bright, shimmery timbre while others prefer a darker, richer sound from their cymbals.  Here’s are recommendations for each timbre.

18″ Symphonic Viennese – Balanced. Shimmery, with present mid-overtones. This is a great all around cymbal I recommend to all of my high school programs.

20″ German Tone Very Dark, Also known as the “Wagnerian Cymbals”. If you enjoy a dark sounding ensemble, this cymbals may blend a little better with your ensemble. Not as versatile as the Symphonic Viennese.

Suspended Cymbals

We have discussed the importance of a good suspended cymbal and stand before, however, this is a perfect opportunity to readdress the issue.

20″ Classic Orchestral Selection – Balanced. More high end than low end. This is a cymbal I typically recommend to middle and high school directors. It is a reasonable price for a fine instrument.

20″ K Constantinople – Perfect balance at all dynamic levels. If you have the cash, this is the cymbal to buy. Beautiful at all ranges of the volume. The swell created by a cymbal roll on one of these is breathtaking.

Drum Set / Jazz Band

Cymbals are expensive and often neglected in the rhythm section. I’ve seen many killer school jazz bands using bottom of the barrel Zildjian ZBT and Sabian B8 cymbals. STAY AWAY FROM THESE CYMBALS. The alloy and manufacturing processed used in the budget friendly ZBT and B8 series produces almost a bell-like tone, completely uncharacteristic of what a quality cymbal should resemble. The ZBT and B8 series is great for beginning drummers just learning the art, not school band programs. Spend the extra $100 and go up a step.

Another great resource for finding the right cymbals for your program can be found at This website, ran by the Memphis Drum Shop, allows the viewer to watch and listen to a high quality recording of cymbals being played with a drum kit. Not only are the prices reasonable, but the site indirectly provides a huge educational database of cymbal sounds.

I have had the most experience and luck with the Zildjian K Custom Dark Series. All hi-hats, crash and ride cymbals in this series will add a much more mature sound to your rhythm section. Be sure to check out other brands as well, such as Sabian, Bosphorus and Meinl. All of these companies are creating quality, fantastic sounding products.

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