Once you’ve set up your snare drum, bass drum, and toms the way that you want them, you will want to choose cymbals for your set that fit sonically together with the overall sounds that you are able to produce on the set. Before you head out to the music store to buy a crash cymbal or a new ride cymbal, there are some things that you must do to learn how to choose cymbals. The first thing is to listen. Listen to as many drummers as you can, and pay attention to the sounds of their cymbals and how they use the different cymbals. Listen to the rings and crashes of as many different styles of drummers as you can find recordings for. Of course there are also live performances that you can attend that will expose you to more cymbal sounds.
Now that you have an aural impression of the kinds of cymbals that you like or don’t like, you can ask other musicians what they like about their cymbals. How do they choose cymbals that work for them? What do they look for in selecting the perfect cymbals? Get as much information as you can from experienced drummers, music store owners, and any other teachers or professionals that you know. You aren’t looking to copy any one drummer’s cymbal arrangement, just to get an overall idea of some of the factors that these musicians consider when buying a cymbal. You can learn about their preferences for the physical characteristics of the cymbal, such as weight, thickness and size, as well as their sound preferences for elements like overtones and sustain.
You should also consider what types of gigs you are doing most often, and what kind of sound you want to bring with you for these purposes. Obviously a jazz drummer will have a different cymbal sound in mind than a grunge drummer. Find musicians that play in the style that you prefer and check out their cymbals. Different sizes and types are typically used for different genres of music, although a capable musician will be able to pull music from any quality cymbal.
Armed with a better understanding of the factors that go into deciding on a pair of cymbals, you can venture into a music store and try out many different types for yourself. Many stores, especially large chain stores, have a ‘cymbal room’ where you can try out dozens of cymbals before you buy them. It isn’t enough to hit them on the display stand. Set them up on a display model set and play them like you will actually be playing on your set. Of course it will be fun, but try and pay attention to the sounds of the cymbal. What are the crashes like? How does the tone sound in a groove? What kinds of sounds are produced as you keep time on the cymbal? Play it in as many different ways as possible. Crash it, even if it is a ride cymbal. Hit it with in different places with both ends of the drumstick. You want to see how many different sounds you can make from the cymbal so you have the most versatile instrument possible. If possible, you should bring your current cymbal setup so that you can try the new cymbals for a perfect match. If you can’t do this, check with the store to find out if they have a return policy in case the cymbal isn’t an ideal match for your set back home.
Name brand is certainly a consideration when choosing cymbals, since you want to buy cymbals that you know are high-quality and likely to last a long time, especially if you tend to be hard on your cymbals when you play. However, it is not the only factor, by any means. Some drummers can be tempted to buy those shiny new cymbals with name brand labels written on, just because they have seen them in music videos or magazines. Keep in mind that sound is the number one priority when you choose new cymbals. Don’t be afraid to look for older cymbals that have been used by other musicians. These can still be in good shape, and sometimes the dings and dents that build up in well-used cymbals contribute musically to the character of the cymbal. Just make sure that you are able to test them first so that you know that they will work for you.