How do we know which cymbal to hit? Instinct or not?

lrod1707

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 12, 2018
Messages
3,836
Reaction score
1,949
Location
Florida
I was driving yesterday and this thought came to mind: How do we instinctively (or not) know what cymbal to hit and when?
I googled this question and found zero information. If you've got 1 crash, that's the one you always use because it's only 1. If you've got lots of crashes like me, you've got a choice of what you hit and when in any given song. So for what specific (sound profile) portion of a song do I hit my 20" or my 16" or my 14" etc...? Is their anything in drumming education that covers this? I've never looked into it so I don't know. Interesting!
I personally believe it's more instinct than anything else because of the limited reaction time that we have when inserting the fill.
Think about the difference when you are playing a song you know vs one that you don't know.
Anyone else ever pondered this very technical aspect of playing and what's your take?
 
Last edited:

shuffle

DFO Star
Joined
Aug 31, 2009
Messages
6,576
Reaction score
920
Location
Reno/Tahoe
In my mind and ear,i look for crash cymbals that propel the music im playing,rides that wash alittle,hats that bark and groove.
Certain crashes at certain moments in the song. Splashes to accent.
I try to think musically.
But,partly,instinctive,as well.
 

lrod1707

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 12, 2018
Messages
3,836
Reaction score
1,949
Location
Florida
Your right but we get different sounds with different cymbals. How do those sounds factor in? I think the purpose of having different crashes with varying sizes and pitches is so we can give different sounds to the song. Like if the guitarist were to play a high riff vs a low riff, we would probably use a different crash that's appropriate to accompany the riff. So the closest crash might not be the sound your looking for at that given time. I get what your saying though that location of the crash is the priority sometimes.
 

hsosdrum

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
478
Reaction score
714
I tend to internally conceive my drum music in broad melodic shapes, rather than as a series of rudimental figures. I may execute a triplet pattern, but my concept is of its melodic shape as opposed to the specific hand-to-hand playing it takes to execute. If you think about your music it these terms it may be easier to figure out where your crash cymbals specifically fit into your music.

I generally think of crash cymbals as being either higher or lower in pitch — even though my setup has five crash cymbals my musical decision about using one or another is simply "is it higher-pitched or lower-pitched?". I use higher-pitched crashes to make a musical statement that sounds a bit "open ended", like it could be quickly followed by another statement. I use lower-pitched crashes to make a musical statement that sounds more final, without the feeling that another statement will quickly follow.

Drum fills work the same way: If you play a fill with a melodic shape that moves primarily from lower pitch to higher pitch it tends to sound incomplete; like it's leading you towards another phrase, such as at the end of a line during a verse. OTOH, playing a fill with a melodic shape that moves primarily from higher pitch to lower pitch will tend to sound more a final statement, such as at the end of a chorus or bridge before going back into a verse. (These are broad characterizations that ignore rhythm and dynamics, so please take them with a grain of salt.)

If you think about what you're playing in a broader musical way as opposed to a "drummer-y" way it may be easier for you to fit together the various elements of your playing style.
 

Drm1979

Very well Known Member
Joined
Oct 31, 2019
Messages
562
Reaction score
425
I have 2 crashes and a splash. 1 crash is a 14" with a quick decay and the 16 has a longer decay. If I'm playing a fill and want to throw a crash in the middle I try to make it land on the 14 so it gives me that punch but then fades out quick. If I'm at the end of a phrase either my fill or changing from a verse to chorus or vice versa I try for the 16 to make that punch a little longer. And my splash rarely gets used except for when I feel a random accent during a verse or chorus needs a quick jab, or I use it as a lead in back to my hi hat from the ride.
 

Tommy D

DFO Veteran
Joined
Apr 4, 2015
Messages
1,623
Reaction score
582
Location
Chicago, IL, USA
I try to pick a bunch of pleasing cymbals that all tend to work together so you can hit any of them and they don't sound out of place. However, when setting up the kit, I will put the largest crash to my upper right so I can ride on it without the cymbal always sounding like a bunch of individual cymbal hits. thinner 18" or a 19" works well in this spot for me.

Then the second largest is to my upper left so I can use that one for general purpose crashing while playing on the hats. Something like a thin 17 or 18 works great here. A second, smaller, crash goes to the left, above the hats, and this one is generally a faster accent crash sometimes used in conjunction with the other left crash for faster double crash/accent shots so you can let the crashes fully ring out instead of hitting the same crash twice quickly. This is the only place I use a 16" crash.

A 4th crash is usually at the far right side of the kit for crashing after a big run down the toms type of fill. I like this one to be a 17" or 18" size. One that opens up easily and has a nice sustain but doesn't go for days.

So, I dont really "think" about which specific crash to hit while I'm playing as I have already done the thinking before I started. Now I just try to play in the zone and let all my pre-planning do the work.
 

lrod1707

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 12, 2018
Messages
3,836
Reaction score
1,949
Location
Florida
I try to pick a bunch of pleasing cymbals that all tend to work together so you can hit any of them and they don't sound out of place. However, when setting up the kit, I will put the largest crash to my upper right so I can ride on it without the cymbal always sounding like a bunch of individual cymbal hits. Then the second largest it to my upper left so I can use that one for general purpose crashing while playing on the hats. A second, smaller, crash go to the left, above the hats, and this one is generally a faster accent crash sometimes used in conjunction with the other left crash for faster double crash/accent shots so you can let the crashes fully ring out instead of hitting the same crash twice quickly.

A 4th crash is usually at the far right side of the kit for crashing after a big run down the toms type of fill. I like this one to be a 17 or 18" size. One that opens up easily and has a nice sustain.

So I dont really "think" about which specific crash to hit as I have already done the thinking. Now I just try to play in the zone and let all my pre-planning do the work.
I have things set up exactly like you have yours. And my philosophy when playing is the same as what you've described.
 

Matched Gripper

Very well Known Member
Joined
May 28, 2019
Messages
668
Reaction score
511
I was driving yesterday and this thought came to mind: How do we instinctively (or not) know what cymbal to hit and when?
I googled this question and found zero information. If you've got 1 crash, that's the one you always use because it's only 1. If you've got lots of crashes like me, you've got a choice of what you hit and when in any given song. So for what specific (sound profile) portion of a song do I hit my 20" or my 16" or my 14" etc...? Is their anything in drumming education that covers this? I've never looked into it so I don't know. Interesting!
I personally believe it's more instinct than anything else because of the limited reaction time that we have when inserting the fill.
Think about the difference when you are playing a song you know vs one that you don't know.
Anyone else ever pondered this very technical aspect of playing and what's your take?
One way to think of it is to place higher pitched crashes near your first tom to finish shorter fills with higher pitched toms, and lower pitched crashes near your last tom to finish longer fills with lower pitched toms.
 

NYFrank

Very well Known Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Messages
1,091
Reaction score
108
Location
Northeast U.S.
I have 2 crashes, a 16 and a 17. I never play with more than 2 crashes. It's always hi hats, 1 ride, 2 crashes.

These things affect which crash I choose:

- Where I am on the kit during a rhythm - on the hi-hat - left 16 - or the ride - right 17.

- Where I am on the kit after a fill - am I close to the left small tom - left 16 - or right large tom - right 17.

- Do I need a higher pitch - left 16 - or lower pitch - right 17.
 

Vicey

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2016
Messages
65
Reaction score
74
Location
FL
Not to be reductive, but for me it is often a question of wanting different sounds for the accents, especially if it's a similar musical figure. In other words, I hit this cymbal now because I hit that cymbal the last time.

An illustration: I was listening to "Rose Darling" from Steely Dan's Katy Lied the other day. This is an album I love and the drumming, for the most part by Jeff Porcaro, is of course impeccable. Yet Jeff does hit the same crash cymbal over and over and by the end of the 3-minute song, I'm kinda tired of hearing it. I'd rather hear some tonal changes that interact with the music. And that's why I tend to play most gigs with two or three crash cymbals, even though I like the practicality and minimalism of using one or none.

Nota bene: I am not bad mouthing Jeff's performance on the song or suggesting that I could have done it better. I just saying if I were Becker and Fagan, I'd have put a slightly larger cymbal of the same series right next to the crash Jeff set up.
 

lrod1707

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 12, 2018
Messages
3,836
Reaction score
1,949
Location
Florida
One way to think of it is to place higher pitched crashes near your first tom to finish shorter fills with higher pitched toms, and lower pitched crashes near your last tom to finish longer fills with lower pitched toms.
That's how I've had it always. I just find it pretty remarkable how our brains can quickly process what's required at what time.
 

lrod1707

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 12, 2018
Messages
3,836
Reaction score
1,949
Location
Florida
What a great topic, it is pretty interesting how there's really no standard concept for this.
Yep! That's why I brought it up because after playing 30+ years, I had never thought of it. I figured that with varied inputs, I could maybe have some sort of understanding. It's kind of like discussing quantum physics, Lol!
 

NYFrank

Very well Known Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Messages
1,091
Reaction score
108
Location
Northeast U.S.
Yep! That's why I brought it up because after playing 30+ years, I had never thought of it. I figured that with varied inputs, I could maybe have some sort of understanding. It's kind of like discussing quantum physics, Lol!
I instantly offered feedback when I saw this thread, yet, before the thread, I never gave this an ounce of thought. :) And I've been playing for almost 40 years. :)

Definitely interesting.
 

CC Cirillo

Very well Known Member
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Feb 20, 2019
Messages
821
Reaction score
1,277
Location
Northern California
First off, I play a one up/one down kit, and I’m not the star of the show. I have two cymbals, typically 20 inchers. One is a ride I can crash and the other is a crash I can ride.

If the crash needs to be a big whole note or half note sort of thing, something that gives the cymbal time to open up, I’ll hit the ride as a crash.

For other things I’ll hit the crash cymbal.

If I need a quick accent crash I’ll hit my secret 14 inch crash. (It’s also called a top high hat cymbal.)

Within these few choices if cymbals there is of course infinite sounds.

If I’m playing a cover song, well, the original dictates what I’m going to hit and how I hit it. So I’m going to have to have to try to replicate the sound on the original with what I have. I’m not going to haul a China type to a gig just to play Take the Money and Run or a Stones song, but I’m going hit something where that sound needs to be.

Other than that I’ve started to work against where my brain or intuition suggests I place a crash. I used to hit too much crash. I’m not playing Prog and I’m not playing arenas. In 30 years of drumming off and on I’ve never had a bandmate say “Hey, Curt, can you maybe bring more cymbals next time?” Or— “Bro, you know we love your playing, but the band had a meeting and we really need you to hit more crash.”

So what I hit and where I hit it needs to be an event of sorts rather than a reaction.
 

Seb77

DFO Veteran
Joined
Apr 11, 2013
Messages
2,449
Reaction score
1,068
Location
Germany
Part of it is location the kit and what you've played before. As mentioned above: when you're down to the floor tom, it's hard to go back to the other side of the kit, so you play the cymbal that's set up there. Doesn't have to be the biggest, lowest sounding; see Vinni Colaiuta or Peter Erskine.

Intuition/Instinct or ratio, in the end it's about orchestration, which instrument to use at which moment, a musical decision. Jeff Porcaro mentioned he likes crashes with different decay time. Or take consonance/dissonance: these days, there are more trashy sounding cymbals in between crash and china than say twenty years ago. Then there is "pitch", a very vague concept for cymbals, but the predominant overtone of a cymbal does sit at a certain frequency, a tone.
 

Dumpy

Very well Known Member
Joined
Aug 12, 2020
Messages
535
Reaction score
331
Location
Wood River, IL
My highest pitched crash is to the left of my snare (left hand kit). I tend to like two crashes on equal spots on either side of the kit. China goes lower and just under the outside crash near the big floor tom, splash goes above the bass drum, and right hand ride is above my hi hat.

How do I know what to hit? Instinct. Am I punctuating a musical phrase in a tom centric pattern? China. Splashes used for punctuating other phrases. Crashes to lead the band into a chorus.
 

bolweevil

DFO Master
Joined
Jun 27, 2011
Messages
3,829
Reaction score
226
Location
Eau Claire, WI
I use just two crashes--a 16" on the left and an 18" on the right. The 18" is a bit higher pitched and louder.
My thought process is in regards to the relation to vocals--if there are vocals present I might hit just the 16" on one accent, then both the next measure if the guitars hit a 'notable' chord change. The 18" is for the end of fills or if the chord change goes from lower to higher notes. If the chord changes goes from high to low I may hit the 18" followed by the 16" to match the feel.

I've tried swapping the position of the crashes and it throws me off because all of those internal rules get reversed.
 

Twakeshima

Active Member
Joined
Sep 15, 2019
Messages
44
Reaction score
25
I tend to go up in size of cymbal when I want to up the intensity. Maybe I’ll start on the hats then ride then crash. When finishing a fill, if it’s meant to stick out I’ll use a big crash; if it’s just a small thing to propel the song, I’ll use a smaller one. Splashes are for accents mostly, same with China’s. I also like to use a big washy thin ride as a crash. That one can really fill up a song if I feel like it’s not thick enough or missing something. I also do a lot of cymbal work in song I record so I like to alternate between big and small in those sections to make each hit stand out. At this point, all of this comes pretty much on instinct. I just love being able to have different sounds on the kit and for different intensities.
 


Top