Words and Sounds

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There are several terms often used to describe a cymbal. Find below several of the most used ones. (This is a work in progress)

Describing Sounds

  • AIRY - Bright, light, non-metallic sound. I use airy to describe many of our Leon Collection cymbals.
  • ATTACK -The response rate of the cymbal. Some models are faster (more attack) than others.
  • BRIGHT - Sounds that are high-pitched; they offer increased cut. Higher harmonics are emphasized generally.
  • CLANGY - A forceful metal sound. Generally negative, but moderate clanginess can be desirable; it can give raw energy.
  • CLEAN - Focused, harmonious profile.
  • CUT - The ability of the sound - usually high-pitched or loud - to cut through the surrounding music. Strong, focused attack, tending to be higher-pitched, to cut through a large ensemble or electric band.
  • DARK - Low-pitched, warm tones that combine for a 'dark' response that blends into surrounding music. Lower Harmonics are emphasized generally. An over-used word; I may use it to describe a very broad category of cymbal, or to mean, with specific individual cymbals, very dark, compared to warm or smoky.
  • DEAD - Excessively dry or muffled, lacking in expected overtones. Not always a negative quality.
  • DEFINITION - The amount of response given in response to being hit with the stick's tip. A cymbal will seem to have less definition if there are lots of overtones. (generally a thin cymbal). Generally a cymbal gets more definition the heavier it gets, due to the weight creating less overtones. "Stick Definition" is a synonym.
  • DRY - A minimum of tone ensures a very definite stroke response. Harmonics de-emphasized relative to the direct stick sound.
  • EXOTIC - Suggests an unusual Chinese cymbal or gong like sound or pitch bend.
  • FAST - Responds quickly to the touch of the stick. A smaller or thinner cymbal responds and decays faster than larger, heavier models. When crashing and rolling, builds to a peak and fades quickly.
  • FUNDAMENTAL - The predominant or main sound within the overall response of a cymbal. A Dark Crash produces a fundamental sound that has a relatively low, warm, rich tone.
  • FUNKY - A mysterious combination of dark, dry, trashy, and exotic.
  • GLASSY - Clear, shimmering response. Often clean and smooth -- like glass. Lacking in body; almost an empty sound.
  • GONGY / GONG-LIKE - The cymbal crashes with a bwah sound; in my mind suggesting a low sound. Can be a pleasing quality, or it can be a flaw.
  • LIVE - Full harmonic profile, big wash, easily crashable.
  • METALLIC - A persistent, obnoxious metal sound.
  • NOISY - Pronounced random harmonics. Could be used interchangeably with trashy, but noisy has a more negative implication.
  • PARTIALS - The overtones or series of pitches produced in addition to the fundamental. Every cymbal will have a different percentage of highs, lows and mid-range partials.
  • PIERCING - Unbalanced high harmonics present. I would never use this word as a positive adjective.
  • SIZZLE - A white noise sound made by rivets vibrating on the surface of the cymbal. It's the sound of bacon frying in a pan. Older catalogs used this term for a cymbal with rivets, "Sizzle Cymbal", "Sizzle Ride", etc.
  • SLOW - Long crash sound that peaks well after the cymbal is struck. Could also describe a cymbal that requires a lot of force to get an explosive crash sound.
  • SMOKY - Lower harmonics moderately emphasized.
  • SPLASHY - Suggests a cymbal that is very responsive to crashing, possibly with a high sound.
  • SUSTAIN - The duration of the sound before it decays. Bigger cymbals sustain longer than smaller models.
  • SWEET - A pleasantly bright sound. In tune with itself and lacking dissonance
  • THIN - Not referring to the actual thickness of the metal— suggests an insubstantial, tinny sound.
  • TIMBRE - The general sound characteristics of a cymbal. Pronounced TAM-ber, or TIM-ber.
  • TRASHY - Raw and dirty responses associated with chinese cymbals and some special models. Harmonic profile tending towards a white-noise like sound; random harmonics dominating the sound.
  • WARM - A softer response that focuses on a blend of low-pitched, musical tones. Mid and lower harmonics subtly emphasized, generally harmonious profile.

Thanks to Todd Bishop for a 2019 compilation found here


Describing The Cymbal's State

  • CRACK - Generally caused by striking the cymbal using the wrong technique, mounting cymbals too tightly, or mishandling. A crack can run along the lathing grooves, or against them. They most often occur at/near the edge, but can occur anywhere. These can be repaired, which changes the sound. Ultimately the smaller the crack, the less that the crack will affect the sound. However, further use will make the crack get bigger. Cracks are often detected from hearing the metal vibrating against metal across the damaged area.

  • DAMAGED - Extreme wear and tear, caused by misuse. A badly damaged cymbal could be used for some white noise effects, especially when stacked on another cymbal. Often these are cut down to a smaller cymbal.
    Badly Damaged / Cracked Cymbal

  • DING / FLEABITE - Damage caused to the edge of the cymbal. This can be the result of a drop, or coming into contact with force.
    Ding / Fleabite

  • FINGERPRINTS - Touches from fingers onto the cymbal surface. On cymbals that have a protective coating, these can usually be wiped off easily. Finger prints can lead to tarnishing, which usually looks yellowish, greenish, blackish, or brownish in appearance. (depending) Fingerprints should be used descriptively when buying or selling.

  • KEYHOLE - Used to describe a mounting hole of the cymbal being out of round. Some keyholes are so bad that a metal grommet might be used to keep the damage from worsening. This is caused by the mounting hole coming into direct contact with the metal post of the cymbal stand. To avoid this condition, always use a cymbal sleeve, and inspect these often for wear.

  • REPAIR - When a cymbal has had a cracked area fixed to make it playable without making the crack worse. Repairs include "CUT/CUT OUT", "NOTCH", "DRILL HOLE", and "CUTDOWN".
    Repair cut

  • STICK MARKS - As it sounds, simply marks from striking a cymbal with the stick. These aren't considered as damage, but something that should be used descriptively when buying or selling.
    Stick Marks

More Examples