A great drum sound starts with a great sounding kit and this includes the cymbals. A drummers choice of the metalwork they hit can change the feel of a track in much the same way as their choice of snare drum can. But after choosing the cymbals there are some things drummers can do in either the way they strike the cymbals or the way they prepare them. Here are my top 5 tips for creative cymbal sounds.
Raid Your Bathroom
This is a trick used by jazz drummers. You can still buy cymbals with small loose rivets in and these rivets rattle in sympathy with each hit and change the decay of the cymbal. They also add a nice extra metallic flavour to make the hits sound longer. Drilling and adding the rivets can also be done by the users but once you have drilled the holes there is no going back. and one slip and the once nice sounding cymbal is trashed. A nice tempory alternative is to use a bath plug chain. Hang this from the center of the stand and let it lay down the cymbal ( normally the ride). This adds much the same tones as the rivets without the drilling. You also can take the chain off again for the next song. No need to change cymbals
Stack Them Up
It is common in many styles of contemporary music for the drummer to drive the groove along with 4s or 8s on the ride or hi hat. A nice alternative to this can be to create a cymbal stack.
A Stack is simply two cymbals on top of one another. It is normal to have a bigger cymbal on the boom and a smaller one on the top In this example I have an 18-inch China on the bottom and a 17-inch crash on the top. Hitting either cymbal produces a short trashy sound that the drummer can play in place of the hi hat or the ride. The sustain of the stack can also be changed by screwing the top cymbal down into the lower one. China cymbals make good lower cymbals as their inverted design allows more air to get into the stack and makes the two cymbals speak better.
The first half of this example is a very open pairing which I then I tighten for the last half.
Cymbals Don't Just Live On Stands
Try placing a smaller cymbal like a small 10-inch splash on a drum head. Now try hitting the head next to the cymbal or the cymbal its self. There are two quite different sounds here. Hitting the cymbal gently sounds a bit like the end of spinning a coin when the coin ends up on the table. Hitting the drum head causes the cymbal to jump a little and then closes down the drum sound with a slight zing. It's nice in the right place.
The first hits are on the head, then the splash it's self then I play a rhythm using both types of hit.
Living On The Edge
Even when mounted the conventional way on a stand cymbals have much more to offer than just crash or ride. Try hitting the edge of the rim of the cymbal with the side of the stick. This causes vibrations to travel longitudinally through the cymbal rather than radiate around and out of it. It produces a clean almost bell like tone. This technique was used in the opening sections of Don't Stop Believing by Journey to great effect.
Let The Cymbal Speak
Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to hit a crash cymbal. This one of the most common mistakes I see with drummers in the studio and their sound suffers because of it. The crash cymbals should be struck with a glancing blow rather than square on. If you hit a crash square on, the sustain will be choked as the cymbal bounces back and hits the stick a fraction of a second after the stick hits it. A glancing blow allows the cymbal to radiate its sound with a nice clean decay that is not constricted. Your crash cymbals will also love you back for this and last longer without cracking.
I have demonstrating this on my three different crash cymbals. The first of each pair is the wrong way to hit and the second it the glancing hit.
When I'm getting bored with a drum part these are some of the tricks I try to make it new. Please feel free to share some of your tricks for getting the best out of the drum sound in your session. Other than about £2 for a replacement bath plug chain, these are all free and could bring your next track back to life.