Image credit: Subdivision by zero, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Imagine any marching band – what are the first instruments that come to mind? Following the ranks of brass horns are the percussionists, playing snares, toms, bass drums, and of course, the cymbals. Now a staple of many genres, the cymbal has roots in military ensembles and ritual settings.
The cymbal is an ancient instrument, with the earliest examples found in art and writings dating back to 3000 B.C. Their exact origin is not known, but have been found in records of many cultures around the world. By the 14th century they were adopted by the Janissary bands, elite Turkish military units that served the Ottoman Sultans, as a way to inspire fellow soldiers and intimidate opponents. In the 17th century, cymbals had spread to the European orchestra. Until the 19th century, cymbals were typically used in pairs and crashed together, but as they were adapted for use with the orchestra, composers began to employ cymbals suspended from stands and played individually.
Modern cymbals were pioneered by Avedis Zildjian, a Turkish immigrant who moved to Boston in 1908. Zildjian worked as a candy manufacturer until the 1920s, when his uncle Aram suggested that he take over the family business, at which time he began building cymbals by hand. His timing could not have been better. Once jazz drummers heard Avedis’ creations, they began requesting specific changes to his designs, mostly for larger and thinner cymbals. In the 1940s the hi-hat was invented, which is a pair of cymbals mounted horizontally on a pole and operated mostly by the drummer’s left foot. The hi-hat was an evolution of the “clanger,” a small cymbal mounted directly on the bass drum.
Following the rise of rock and roll, cymbals quickly became even larger and louder to compete with amplified instruments. Since the drum set is an essential part of both jazz and rock music, the manufacturing of cymbals became widespread, and today they are offered in a massive variety of specifications. However, it’s worth remembering the legendary Art Blakey’s words regarding his choice of cymbals: “I just play any cymbal. Always do the best with what you have. It ain’t the cymbal, no way, it’s the person playing it. Just give me a cymbal. I don’t select them. I ain’t got time for that.”
Would you like to improve your drumming chops? Contact Thompson Tutoring for music lessons today!