Notation Guide - Cymbals

A detailed exaplanation on how cymbals are notated.

Cymbals are circular pieces of metal specially crafted to create certain tones, pitches and effects. They can be between 6" and 24" and there intended function will usually dictate what specific size it is.

Several different sounds can be made on a single cymbal and I try to account for this in my notation. Certain changes to note heads will imply different things. For example, a bolded 'x' note head can be thought of as an 'alternate voice'. I have specifically shown the 'ride edge' notation below, in this example an 'x' is shown in the usual ride position but is shown in bold. The intention here is that the standard way to play ride is on the 'body' of the cymbal so the alternate voice is to strike it like a crash. The same is sometimes used with crash cymbals. The standard way to strike a crash is on the 'edge' so if we see a crash in bold, the intention is for it to be struck on the body.

The 'bell' notation can also be moved to apply to other cymbals. If you were to see a 'diamond' note head where a crash would normally be, you would hit the bell of the crash cymbal.



The Hi Hat

The hi hat is very versatile. The stand it is set up on gives you a lot of control of the sound the cymbals make. As you increase pressure with the foot, the cymbals get pushed closer together creating a 'tighter', 'harder' sound. As pressure is released and the cymbals start getting further apart the sound gets 'looser' and a 'sizzly' sort of sound is made. You can also use the left foot on the pedal to create a 'chick' sort of sound that is great for keeping time and adding an extra layer of sound to a pattern.

To account for these multiple sounds there are various symbols that are used, these are shown below. When open, closed and half open hi hats are used you will only see the sign above the first note, you are to presume every note after that is the same until you see a new mark.

The Hi Hat

The Hi Hat is noted on the high G, in the gap above the stave. It has an 'x' for a note head.


Closed Hi Hat

The Closed Hi Hat

When the hi hat is to be played closed a '+' sign is written above it. To play a closed hi hat press the left foot on the hi hat pedal firmly.


Open Hi Hat

The Open Hi Hat

When the hi hat is to be played open a 'o' is written above it. To play an open hi hat have your foot pressed on the hi hat pedal enough to allow the cymbals to only just be touching.


Half Open Hi Hat

The Half Open Hi Hat

When the hi hat is to be played half open a 'o' is written above it with a diagonal line through it. To play a half open hi hat, press your foot on the pedal with minimal pressure. The two cymbals will be pressed together, but only very loosely.


Hi Hat Played With The Foot

The Left Foot Hi Hat

A hi hat played with the footed is noted on the low D note, in the gap below the stave. This sound is created by pressing your foot onto the left pedal.


Hi Hat Splashed With The Foot

The Left Foot Hi Hat Splashed

When the left foot is 'splashed' an 'o' is written below the note head. This sound is created by pressing your left foot onto the pedal then quickly taking it off, so the two cymbals strike and separate.


Second Hi Hat

The Second Hi Hat

Some drummers use two sets of hi hats, sometimes to provide two different hi hat sounds and sometimes one is set to a permanent half open position and is used when playing double kick. Generally the second hi hat is on the right hand side of the kit, but that is a very loose generalisation.


The Ride Cymbal

The Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal is notated on the high F, on the top line. It has an 'x' for a note head. A ride cymbal is usually 20"-22" but between 24" and 18" is also common. The standard way to play the ride is on the 'body', which is the big flat bit where you usually see the cymbals brand printed. The most common use for a ride is as a replacement for the right hand in a groove.


The Bell Of The Ride Cymbal

The Bell Of The Ride

The bell of the ride is notated on the high F, on the top line, which is the same place as the standard ride notation. It has an hollow diamond for a note head. The bell of the ride is at the centre of the cymbal, and it is physically bell shaped. It has a louder, deeper tone than the cymbal body and it is great for adding accents into a groove.


Crash Cymbals

The main purpose of a crash cymbal is to accent notes in a groove or fill. They can also be used as a replacement for the right hand in a groove. Crashes come in a variety of sizes, most commonly between 14" and "20. In drumscore transcriptions I notate for 2 crash cymbals and occasionally an additional 2 when necessary. The two main crash notation marks are called 'Left Side' and 'Right Side'. This refers to the side of you they are positioned on the kit and can be useful for working out sticking in some complex patterns. The 'Left Side Crash' can be struck with the left hand and vice versa. A 'Right Side Crash' is usually bigger.


The Left Side Crash

The Left Side Crash Cymbal

The left side crash cymbal is notated on the high C, on the first ledger line above the stave. It has an 'x' for a note head.


The Right Side Crash

The Right Side Crash Cymbal

The right side crash cymbal is notated on the high D, on top of the first ledger line above the stave. It has an 'x' for a note head.


Additional Crashes

An Additional Left Side Crash Cymbal

Additional Left Side Crash

An Additional Right Side Crash Cymbal

Additional Right Side Crash

Additional cymbals have a '2' above the cymbal they are an additional one of. So an additional right side crash would be notated as a right side crash with a '2' above it, an additional splash would be a splash notated with a '2' above it and so on.


The China Cymbal

The China Cymbal

The china cymbal is notated on a high F, above the second ledger line. It has an 'x' for a note head. China cymbals have a unique look, the edges are folder back to create a 'lip'. They have a 'trashy' sound, similar to a crash but shorter in sustain and usually more aggressive. They are very good at adding accents into a groove or fill because of this aggressive sound.


The Splash

The Splash Cymbal

The splash cymbal is notated on a high E, on the second ledger line above the stave. It has an 'x' for a note head. Splash cymbals are essentially mini crashes and are usually between 6" and 12". They could be used as a substitute for a crash in a more delicate piece of music, as melodic decoration in a groove or fill or as something to accent with.


The Chime Cymbal

The Chime Cymbal

The chime cymbal is notated on a high E, on the second ledger line, which is the same place as a splash. It has a hollow diamond for a note head. A chime is a small bell shaped cymbal that makes a sound similar to a ride bell but is usually slightly higher in pitch. They are usually used as decoration in a groove or fill.


Choked Cymbals

The Choked Crash Cymbal

A 'Choked' cymbal is notated by placing a '+' above the note head. 'Choking' is a technique where a cymbal is grabbed shortly after it is struck, creating a short stabby sound. They can be used when an abrubt stop is needed in a piece or music, or to place quick accents in a pattern.


The Edge Of The Ride Cymbal

The Edge Of The Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal edge is notated on the high F, on the top line. It has an bolded 'x' for a note head. Hitting the edge of a ride, like you would a crash, creates a louder more intense sound. It is commonly used in rock and metal for the louder heavier parts of music.


The Second Ride Cymbal

A Second Ride

The second ride cymbal is notated on the high E, in the top gap, where you would also see a high tom notated. It has an 'x' for a note head. Some drummers use two ride Cymbals to add more texture to there kit. A second ride is most commonly seen on the left side of the kit, next to or above the hi hat.