What Are The Differences Between Ride & Crash Cymbals?


As part of my series on comparing instruments, two cymbals deserve particular treatment. These are the ride and crash cymbals, two of the most featured in modern drum sets.

What are the differences between ride cymbals and crash cymbals? Their differences may be boiled down to the following:

  • Ride cymbals are bigger and thicker than crash cymbals.
  • Ride cymbals produce a more focused sound than that created by crash cymbals.
  • Ride cymbals are used to mark the tempo, while crash cymbals are used for effects.

In this article, we'll pit ride cymbals against crash cymbals, using the bullet points provided above. Before proceeding onwards, we'll briefly discuss their different backgrounds.

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The Backgrounds Of Ride Cymbals And Crash Cymbals

All cymbals owe their existence to the first samples created in the regions of Central and East Asia in approximately 3,000 B.C. Since then, cymbals have been made in an immense variety of designs and for a wide array of purposes. Some of the most renowned ancient cymbals came from China and Turkey.

Cymbals were imported to Europe around the early middle ages, though they would rise into prominence during the Turkish wars, playing a huge role in the Janissary orchestra.

In this section, we will not be dealing extensively with each cymbal type separately, if only because they share a common origin for the most part. That stated, let's highlight some of their most recent developments.

The Background Of Ride Cymbals

Many modern ride cymbal variants were made during the middle of the 20th century by major cymbal manufacturers such as Paiste and Zildjian. Some of these – such as the “Crash Ride” – were catered to drummers who expressed specific needs or could only afford one cymbal for both patterns and accents.

On the other hand, Zildjian's “Ping Ride” targeted drummers seeking a more acute ride cymbal sound for big bands back in the '50s.

Zildjian would later devise the “Earth Rides” with even more “Ping” effect (and a very unconventional appearance to boot) at the request of jazz-rock fusion drummer Billy Cobham. The story goes that Armand Zildjian came across some unfinished cymbals in his factory, and, as he played them, he found that the sound was exactly what Cobham was asking for.

Other ride cymbal models include the bell-less (flat) cymbals, the swish cymbals (similar to China cymbals), and sizzle cymbals.

The Background Of Crash Cymbals

The history of the crash cymbals is intimately tied to 18h century Ottoman Turkey, to the point that most of the crash cymbals retailed nowadays are manufactured by two major Turkish makers, namely Zildjian and Sabian, both of whom were from the Zildjian family tradition.

These crash cymbals have traditionally been widespread in orchestral settings, particularly marching and concert bands. They have also been originally designed to be played by bashing two of them together. Over time, when they began to be incorporated into modern drums, they would also begin to be played with drumsticks.

Zildjian managed to come up with a plethora of crash cymbal models that are classified according to build material, weight, size, and other such parameters (“A Family”, “S Family”, etc.) Sabian, on the other hand, came up with their own designs, such as the “Stage Crashes”, “Vault Crashes”, and “X-Plosion Crashes”, among others.


The Similarities Between Ride And Crash Cymbals

The similarities between ride and crash cymbals are as hard to miss as their differences. At first sight, you could easily confuse the two. Let's go through some obvious similarities:

  • Both cymbals can be played while suspended or affixed to a stand.
  • Both instruments are part of regular drum sets.
  • The ride and crash cymbal share similar shapes, despite differences found between their variants.
  • Both can be used, to a greater or lesser extent, for accents and beats.
  • Both cymbals have a similar background (as exposed earlier).
  • They both have a metallic body and produce a naturally metallic sound (both are idiophones).
  • Both have roughly similar sizes.

The Differences Between Ride Cymbals And Crash Cymbals

Now, we'll go over the main differences between ride and crash cymbals, briefly laid out at the beginning of this short guide.

Difference 1: Design

Designs vary even amidst cymbals of the same kind, so this is not supposed to be a thorough analysis of each cymbal model. Rather, we will focus on the more general differences.

In terms of shape, no defining characteristic could function as a differentiating factor. Both cymbals may overlap in this specific aspect.

However, in terms of size and weight, differences may seem marginal on paper, but they carry several repercussions in sound delivery.

Regarding the size range of both instruments, the crash cymbal can measure from 14 to 18 inches (roughly 35 to 45 centimetres) in diameter. In contrast, ride cymbals can reach from 18 to 22 inches (45 to 55 centimetres approximately). Furthermore, the rides are noticeably thicker and denser than crashes.

Difference 2: Sound

This difference is the most relevant since it also goes in hand with how both instruments or components are utilized in everyday gigs.

Designs have much to account for in how both instruments produce their sounds, especially because cymbals are idiophone instruments. Idiophone instruments lay responsibility for their entire sound production on the vibrations rendered across their build material without requiring the aid of any other component (such as a membrane or a string).

Due to ride cymbals' thickness, they tend to produce a steadier and more focused tone. This allows drummers to create more controlled cymbal patterns, such as those heard predominantly in swing, bebop, and other similar jazz styles. The delivery also manages to have a smoother “attack” and better sustain.

Crash cymbals, on the other side, offer a more explosive and sudden sound. This is why it receives the moniker “crash cymbal”.

Difference 3: Use Case

This difference is closely related to tone, which, in turn, is also influenced by design, as explained before.

Depending on the playing style and the needs arising in a given time, crash cymbals could be used for tempo marking, while the ride cymbals could be employed for accents and rolls. However, in normal circumstances, the reverse is the case.

Ride cymbals get their name from their main role in a drum set, which is to “ride the music” or, in other words, to set the rhythm. That would be the most natural use case for ride cymbals when taking their weight, size, and sound into the equation.

It's also for this reason ride cymbals are typically situated on the right-hand side of most drum kits (behind the floor tom), while crashes are located on the left side, closer to hi-hats. Having the ride cymbal closer to the dominant hand makes it easier to be handled. For the record, left-handed drummers are oftentimes advised to place their rides on the left-hand side.

Crash cymbals, on the flip side, are essentially unstable for the purposes of marking tempo because of their lightweight profile but are perfect for creating accents, rolls, and dramatic effects.


Other Noteworthy Differences

Apart from the differences previously described, there is a myriad of other disparities worth examining in passing, some of which stem from the ones analyzed above.

Price

Because of their sturdier and larger build, ride cymbals tend to cost much more than crash cymbals. This does not mean that, in the long run, you'll spend more on ride cymbals than on crash cymbals, but you will certainly have to pay more each time you buy rides.

To give an idea, crashes could cost up to $350, while rides would almost double that amount.

Playing Methods

Crash cymbals tend to be played towards the rim, allowing for more potent crashes. Ride cymbals, conversely, are played more towards the center or top. The reasoning behind these distinctions is that both cymbals produce tones more suitable for their purpose at those specific spots.

As a result, ride cymbals tend to be positioned much lower than crash cymbals, so you can reach them more easily.

Resistance

Crash cymbals are prone to crack or split more easily because of their more fragile constitution, apart from playing at the edge, which is the cymbal's most sensitive spot.

Ride cymbals, on the contrary, tend to last a long time without chipping or breaking, which justifies their steeper price but also explains why you don't end up spending more money on ride cymbals long-term.

Variety

There are currently far more crash cymbal types on the market than ride cymbal types. However, this is not a constant metric, and the trend might change in the future.

Quantity

Drum sets are not accustomed to carrying more than one ride cymbal, whereas it's more common to find two, three, or even more crash cymbals mounted.

This makes perfect sense when we consider that crash cymbals are more difficult to play ostinato beats on due to the wide oscillations they experience upon being struck. Multiple crashes enable drummers to trigger various crash effects and accents quickly.


Read How Crash Cymbals Compare To Other Instruments

Read How Ride Cymbals Compare To Other Instruments


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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