The Percussion Family

The Cymbals

The cymbals look like two giant metal discs which are either rubbed together to make a rustling sound, or stuck together to make a large crash! They don’t make any specific pitch when played, and are generally used to shape a climax in a musical phrase. They can also be used to punctuate or accentuate certain beats or create other various sound effects.

Corinne René, substitute percussionist of the Orchestre Métropolitain

Did you know?

Traditionally, one of the steps in the process of making a cymbal is to strike the metal with a hammer in order to improve the sound quality of the instrument. There are numerous techniques and the instrument maker’s unique process makes each of his or her instruments unique.

Musical excerpts

In the first excerpt, from the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, the cymbals punctuate each beat, effectively creating the sparks necessary in an allegro “con fuoco”, or “with fire” in English. While the Overture from Romeo and Juliet begins with regular crashes, quickly muted by the player to better punctuate the virtuosic violin scales, by the end of the excerpt, the player lets the cymbal crash resonate, thereby increasing the drama and changing the mood. In the last excerpt, the colour of the cymbals is even more brilliant because it is married to the twinkling sound of the triangle.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 4: IV. Finale. Allegro con fuoco

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Romeo and Juliet: Overture

Gioachino Rossini

William Tell: Overture