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10 facts about cymbals

There are many cymbal variants and a multitude of sounds can be produced depending upon how the instrument is played. With its indefinite pitch and ability to make unusual or striking sounds, cymbals are an integral part of the percussion family.

1. Modern cymbals range from 30cm to 65cm in diameter, but orchestra cymbals generally range from 40cm to 50cm, which enables brilliance and resonance in an orchestral setting.

2. Cymbals are made to be slightly convex so that only their outer edges touch, and contain a small domed opening in the middle.

3. Some cymbals are held with a strap, which is tied with a sailor’s knot from the central hole inside the middle of the cymbal.

4. Chinese cymbals are slightly different in shape and manufactured differently than modern “Turkish” cymbals, producing a “brittle” sound only used in Western orchestras for special effects.

5. In many illustrations of cymbals used by Greeks and Romans from the Middle Ages, cymbals are shown being played horizontally.

Image credit: Cymbal by StockSnap, Public Domain via Pixabay.

6. Although it is widely asserted that China has the longest history of cymbal-making, the instrument may have been introduced into China from India.

7. Cymbals were played in Assyrian military bands alongside lyres and drums.

8. Different variations of suspended cymbal were first developed for jazz and popular music before being utilized in the orchestra.

9. Crotales, or “antique cymbals,” are smaller cymbals of definite pitch which were first manufactured in the 20th century.

10. The notation for cymbals is usually written on a single line in orchestral scores.

Featured image credit: “Cymbals”. Photo by Nikon Jazz. via Flickr.

Information for this post was sourced from the “Cymbals” entry by J. Blades, J. Holland and J. Montagu in The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (2 ed.) available on Oxford Reference.

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