If I can share one piece of advice with you, it would be to never get rid of your cymbals. It doesn’t matter if is a Sabian B8 from your first year of playing that you haven’t touched in years, it will most likely be needed again at some point — trust me. Cymbals do not take up too much space and they are simply incredible instruments for drummer expression. In this lesson we will explore creating a different feel with cymbal textures in part four of our four-part series on changing the atmosphere of a song with the drum set.

One cymbal can produce a plethora of sounds and shapes. Back in my college days at the University of Miami, all jazz majors had to get through a swing class run by master pianist Vince Maggio. This was our version of Whiplash. Every — and I mean every — drummer at one point during the semester was instructed by Vince to only play the tune (a bop head, a blues, a ballad, rhythm changes, etc.) with one stick and one cymbal. The entire tune! This turned out to be one of the greatest lessons I ever learned, that cymbals are all you really need to convey time and be expressive. Try it for yourself.

This leads me to our lesson on changing sonic atmospheres through the use of flat rides and China cymbals. The flat ride is commonly associated with the ECM record label (think Pat Metheny) and other great artists such as Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Roy Haynes. The flat ride is not limited to jazz though, it can be used in singer/songwriter, Latin, and intimate settings as well. No other type of cymbal possesses  the incredible stick definition of a flat top ride. The most well known flat ride was and is still produced by Paiste — the 602 flat ride. If you ever have the chance be sure to grab one and I am sure you will find many occasions to use it.

The China cymbal really came into its own in the progressive rock era of the ’70s and ’80s with groups like Genesis and Rush. Most drummers today use the China for loud, white-washy, explosive crashes that decay immediately. Usually played upside down, the China is a must for rock drummers today. That said, go ahead and flip the China right side up, find a 5A or 7A size stick, and play the cymbal just as you would a regular ride cymbal. You will find it provides a dark, gritty, and sizzling undertone no regular ride cymbal could ever produce.

This is an amazing way to create a new sonic pad for a new section of a tune or for a new soloist in an improvisational setting. If you have a China, try this out. If you do not own one yet, I hope this inspires you to expand your cymbal collection.

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.