Small vs Large Cymbals: Why Does Cymbal Size Matter?

Cymbals vary in size massively and this has a big impact on the way they sound by influencing the volume, pitch, sustain, and attack. In this article I’ll take you through the different types of cymbal and their average size and explain the difference between small and large cymbals.

The Quick Answer…

Cymbals with a large diameter have a lower pitch which means they produce a more mellow sound compared to cymbals with a smaller diameter which sound brighter. Thin cymbals have a lower pitch and less sustain but faster attack.

Average Size of Cymbals

There are several different types of cymbals available and they come in all different sizes.

  • Crash Cymbals
  • Ride Cymbals
  • Crash/ Ride Cymbals
  • Hi-Hat Cymbals
  • Splash Cymbals
  • China Cymbals
  • Swish Cymbals
  • Sizzle Cymbals
  • Bell Cymbals
Type of CymbalDiameterRelative ThicknessSound Description
Ride18” to 22”ThickLow-moderate pitch, low attack, high sustain
Crash14” to 18” Thin-Medium Medium-high pitch, fast attack, moderate sustain
Crash/ Ride16” to 20” MediumMedium pitch, moderate attack and sustain 
Hi-Hat13” to 16”Thin-MediumMedium-high pitch, fast attack and low sustain 
Splash6” to 12” ThinHigh pitch, very fast attack, very low sustain 
China16” to 24” Thin-MediumLow-medium pitch, moderate attack and sustain 
Swish16” to 22”ThinLow-medium pitch, washy tone 
Sizzle6″ to 22″ThinVariable pitch, washy tone 
Bell6″ to 10″ThickVery high pitch, moderate attack, high sustain 
Average size of different types of cymbals

Quick terminology guide:

– Pitch: how high/ low the tone is. High pitch = bright, low pitch = warm

– Attack: how quickly the sound builds up

– Sustain: how long the sound rings out for

Ride Cymbal

Ride cymbals have the largest diameter of all the different types of cymbal found on a standard drum kit. The standard size for a ride cymbal is 20″ (diameter) but they can range in size from 18″ to 20″. Ride cymbals are typically thicker than other types of cymbal as well giving it more sustain and volume.

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Crash Cymbal

Crash cymbals typically have a diameter of 16″ but the common range is between 14″ and 18″. They are thinner than ride cymbals which gives them more attack making them sound more direct, but reduces the amount of sustain.

Check out my comparison between ride and crash cymbals to learn more.

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Crash/ Ride Cymbal

Crash/ride cymbals are designed to function as both a crash and a ride cymbal. When struck on the edge they sound more like a crash cymbal, and when struck towards the centre they function more as a ride cymbal. Crash/ ride cymbals typically have a diameter of 16″ to 20″.

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Hi-Hat Cymbal

The standard size for a hi-hat cymbal is 14″. Other common diameters include 13″, 15″ and 16″. Smaller hi-hat cymbals sound brighter and more crisp whereas larger hi-hat cymbals sound warmer, darker and louder.

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Splash Cymbal

Splash cymbals are used as accents, similarly to crash cymbals however they are much smaller and thinner. Splash cymbals typically have a diameter of 6″ to 12″ making them sound brighter and sharper, but also quieter compared to crash cymbals.

Check out my comparison between crash and splash cymbals to learn more.

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China Cymbal

China cymbals are used to create an accent, similarly to splash and crash cymbals however they vary in size considerably. Most china cymbals have a diameter of 16″ to 24″. However, you can also get mini china cymbals which have a diameter of 12″ to 14″.

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Swish Cymbal

Swish cymbals are often played similarly to ride cymbals. They typically have a diameter between 16″ and 22″ and have holes/ rivets around the edge. They are particularly popular for jazz and big band music and produce a washy tone with a lot of sustain.

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Sizzle Cymbal

Sizzle cymbals have holes/ rivets around the edge and chains to create a rattling tone. Sizzle cymbals are not that common on acoustic drum kits but can be used to create an interesting effect. They vary in size massively and can have a diameter as small as 6″ and all the way up to 22″.

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Bell Cymbal

Bell cymbals have a small diameter which is typically between 6″ and 10″ and are very thick with a low taper. This gives them a unique sound which is high-pitched but has a lot of sustain.

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How Does Cymbal Size Affect the Sound?

Okay so now we’ve been through the different types of cymbals, let’s discuss the effect of size on sound. There are three physical characteristics to unpack here:

  • Diameter
  • Thickness
  • Bell Size

Cymbal Diameter

The diameter of a cymbal affects both the pitch and volume.

Cymbals with a smaller diameter will have a higher pitch and sound quieter compared to cymbals with a larger diameter which are louder and have a lower pitch. Cymbals with a higher pitch sound brighter whereas cymbals with a lower pitch sound darker and warmer.

Cymbal Thickness

The thicker a cymbal is, the higher its pitch will be giving it a brighter sound. Thicker cymbals are heavier and vibrate faster which means the soundwaves have a higher frequency and hence a higher pitch. However, it’s important to note that its usually the diameter which has the most impact on pitch.

The thickness of a cymbal also affects the mass. Heavier (thicker) cymbals will be louder, and have more sustain meaning that the sound will ring out for longer. On the other hand, lighter (thinner) cymbals will have a faster attack meaning that the note is heard more quickly making the cymbal sound more direct.

Bell Size

The bell of a cymbal refers to the concave shape at the centre. Typically cymbals with larger bells tend to be thicker, but this is not always the case and the size of the bell also impacts the sound independently of the overall thickness of the cymbal.

The smaller the cymbal’s bell is, the higher pitched the sound will be. Smaller bells also result in less sustain and more attack. Cymbals with larger bells on the other hand have more sustain and resonance as they produce more overtones.

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I’m here to share with you my passion for drumming, as well as some tips and tricks for choosing and making the most out of your drum kit and accessories. Whilst I play primarily on electronic drum kits, I love all things drumming and hope to share this with as many people as possible!

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