Technique: Finding The Perfect Ride Cymbal
By Mike Fitch |
I've yet to meet a drummer whose eyes don't light up when the conversation turns to cymbals. A fine cymbal is a beautiful thing, a piece of art as well as a unique musical instrument. There is a huge sound spectrum in the world of ride cymbals and finding the one that speaks to you can be quite a journey. A definitive ride cymbal sound becomes a big part of a drummer's sonic signature. The ride gets quite a workout in most musical genres, accompanying soloists, creating dynamics, and adding color and movement to the overall sound.
The typical ride cymbal ranges from 18"-22" in diameter, and comes in many different weights. The two most important characteristics to listen for when checking out a ride cymbal are stick definition (the ping or ride sound the cymbal makes when the bead of the stick strikes the cymbal, and the wash sound (the mix of overtones created by the cymbal's vibration).
When playing a ride pattern on the cymbal, look for a crisp, distinct ping that's not harsh. The wash should be full and rich, without being too overbearing—be sure that no persistent undesired overtones are created. Play on the bell (the raised part of the cymbal in the middle)—it should produce a strong, clear bell tone. The type of music you play and your personal sound preferences loom large in cymbal selection. If you're playing high-volume rock or big band styles, you'll likely want a heavier cymbal that can cut through loud mixes, while applications such as a jazz combo or acoustic rock call for a lighter cymbal that blends easily. Play any prospective ride cymbal with various touches from loud to quiet to reveal different sonic characteristics. You may want to have extra, alternate rides for different gigs if you play many different styles.
Many professional drummers prefer hand-hammered cast cymbals, each of which produces a unique sound that grows better with age, although some drummers like the clarity and consistency of cymbals that are cut out of sheet bronze. There are specialty rides available you might want to try, including cymbals with rivets added for a sizzle effect, and flat rides, which dispense with the bell for precise, ultra-clean definition. There are a number of cymbals listed as crash-ride, medium-weight cymbals made to cover both crash and ride functions convincingly—though experienced players often maintain that most good ride cymbals will also make a good crash. The key is to scope out a lot of different rides and see which one fits your individual playing style. Once you've found the ride of your dreams, the onus is on you to draw out the full range of sounds waiting to be unleashed from your new hunk of precious metal.
Developing a set of 'big ears' is something that happens by playing with a live band night after night. While the gear and accessories you use can be a big help in playing dynamically, the most important thing is to listen closely to your fellow musicians and learn how to shape and react to the shifting volume of your band's musical expression. Those scowls from your singer will morph into smiles and the horn players will buy you drinks.
Mike Fitch has been a professional drummer and percussionist in the Pacific Northwest for over 40 years, and also worked as a copywriter and graphic designer for Musician's Friend.