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Sounds and Techniques for Field Cymbals

by Lamar Burkhalter

Lesson Category: Zildjian Marching Band & Drum Corps Lessons
Skill Levels: Advanced

In the last ten years, the repertoire of sounds and visual ideas available to field cymbals has greatly expanded, resulting in both musical and visual contributions to marching band and drum corps performances. Today's cymbal lines are involved in different textures and melodic accents while contributing to the overall visual effect of the show. I categorize the different crashes and sounds into four groups: musical crashes, visual crashes, special effects and rolls. Although many of the musical and visual crashes produce a similar sound, referred to as an "orchestra" crash, some of these are used specifically for their visual contribution, hence the visual classification. This lesson will focus on only some of the more common Special Effects.

With a greater repertoire of sounds and visuals, there will also be a need for a more involved approach to the arranging for cymbals on the field. Look for additional voicings that allow for more dynamic control as well as linear and melodic involvement. Also, consider the cymbal sound chosen in relation to the texture of the full ensemble. A few suggestions for arranging applications are included in the description, as well as the notation abbreviations used in a cymbal score. The sounds and effects explained here by no means represent the endless possibilities available to creative arrangers and cymbal lines. This guide is designed to give an overview of cymbal effects and serve as a reference, but the possibilities are endless. Be creative and explore different sounds and visuals on your own, and contribute to the development of cymbals on the field.


The cymbals are placed against the stomach with the edges touching, and to top cymbal is pressed into the bottom cymbal for a crisp "chick" sound (to be used as a HiHat substitute).


Same as the horizontal hinge, but in a vertical position with the cymbals meeting in the center of the chest (same as horizontal hinge).

TINGS (Ting)

In the standard position, one cymbal lightly taps on the opposite cymbal approximately 1-2 inches from the edge (effective in light passages, WW and/or pit features).

TONGS (Tong)

Tongs are executed by forming a "T" directly in front of the player, generally R over L, at eye level and the bottom of the dome of the upper cymbal strikes the edge of the lower cymbal (same as tings but for lower pitches).

TAPS (Tap)

Taps are executed just like Tings, except that the cymbals are muffled by holding them against the arms and chest while playing (same as tings).


The cymbals are "slammed" together, horizontally or vertically, and are pressed tightly together to avoid any sustained sizzle sound (to be used in staccato, aggressive, and most loud passages).

ZINGS (Zing)

In standard position, the edge of one cymbal is places at the edge of the dome, inside the opposite cymbal, and is pushed upward to obtain a scraping sound off of the grooves of the static cymbal (effective in light passages, WW and/or pit features.


Buzzes are executed just like Tings, except that they are allowed to sustain a buzzing sound (effective in Light passages, WW and/or pit features).

SIZZLE (Sizz.)

The cymbals are loosely pressed together so that a full sounding sizzle sustains (effective at all dynamic levels).

SLIDES (Slide - o over the sustain, + over the release)

In the horizontal position, the top cymbal is pushed away from the body, while the cymbals are buzzing, and is sharply pulled back to the body for the release (to be used as a HiHat sound at all dynamic levels).


In the vertical parallel position, the cymbals are loosely pressed together to obtain a sustained sizzle, and then are gradually brought to a horizontal position, while slowly pulling the hands apart in a slide like motion across the body.

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