Ride vs Crash Cymbal (4 Key Differences To Know)

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  • Learn about the key differences between ride and crash cymbals
  • Which cymbal is best to use?
  • How high should your ride cymbal be?
  • Recording drums? Read our post on mixing rock snares!

Ride cymbals and crash cymbals both have their own unique place in the drummer’s arsenal.

If you want to be the next John Bonham or Keith Moon, you’ll need to learn how to use them effectively (maybe lay off the drink, though).

Crash Cymbal vs. Ride Cymbal: The Differences

Crashes are used sparingly to make strong accents or flourishes, while rides are used to lay down a steady rhythm that forms the basis of a beat. 

Crash Cymbals

Ride Cymbals

14″ to 18″ wide

18″ to 22″ wide

Hit on the edge

Hit on the top
Make a loud, bold sound

Make a broad, washier sound

Used for marking an accent

Used for keeping a steady rhythm

How To Use:

Crash Cymbals

We use crashes on the strong accents in a song, which is often the first beat or whatever the other musicians accentuate.

They are also used to kick off a new song section, for example, when beginning the verse or chorus.

When starting a new section, drummers can hit two crashes together to make a bigger accent.

You can also place crash accents on less commonly accented notes in the bar, which makes the drum part stand out more.

An excellent example of this is Lars Ulrich accenting the second beat in the main riff of Metallica’s classic “Sad But True” at 0.34 in the song.

Ride Cymbals 

We use the ride or hi-hats to keep a steady rhythm throughout the song, often while playing quarter or eighth notes. 

Keeping a steady rhythm on a cymbal is called ‘riding’ a cymbal. You can also ‘ride’ a crash, although riding on a crash is quite loud, so it’s usually reserved for heavier sections.

We hit the ride on the top of the cymbal, at the midpoint between the raised bell and the outer edge of the cymbal. If you want to create a more striking sound, you can instead hit the top of the ride bell.

The bell makes a higher-pitched sound which will cut through the mix more.

Crash Vs Ride Cymbal: Positioning

Drummers commonly place the crash cymbals to the right and left of the kit, elevated above the mounted tom drums.

The ride is placed to the right of the mounted toms (for a right-handed player) and at a lower height than the crashes.

The cymbals are placed in this way to provide easy access to each part of the kit. If you place the crashes lower, for example, they’ll get in the way of the toms.

The ride is placed lower than the crashes so you can have your arm in a relaxed position when hitting the top of the ride.

This is important as you’ll often be hitting it consistently for an entire section of the song. 


Can You Use A Ride Cymbal As A Crash?

Using a ride cymbal as a crash is a surefire way to get dirty looks from your bassist. Ride cymbals have a deeper pitch and longer decay than crashes.

As a result, if you hit a ride hard on the edge like a crash, you end up with an odd, ringing cymbal sound that does not sit well in most songs.

That said, there are no rules in drumming, so feel free to experiment with using any cymbal however you like.

For example, hitting a ride lightly on the edge can be a nice way to add some ambient cymbal sounds in softer sections.

If you want to buy one cymbal that can do both jobs, there are crash-ride cymbals available. These are hybrid crash and ride cymbals and are commonly sized 18″ to 22″.

They are designed to provide a pleasing ping when hit on the top like a ride and have a faster decay, enabling them to be struck like a crash on the edge.

How High Should Your Ride Cymbal Be?

I’ve seen drummers with some absolutely nutty ride positions, such as Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain (placed vertically) or Julian Lage drummer Kenny Wollesen (vertical and angled sideways).

But, for those starting out, it’s best to keep things simple.

As mentioned, a right-handed drummer should have the ride to the right of your mounted toms.

You should have your ride cymbal at a height where your arm is in a neutral position when playing it.

This can be achieved with your arm roughly at a 90-degree angle to your body.

If your arm is under any strain to reach the ride when playing, you should reposition your setup to allow it to be played in a more comfortable way.

The best cure for repetitive strain injuries is never getting one in the first place by using a smart, ergonomic setup. 

How Can You Tell If A Cymbal Is A Crash Or Ride?

The easiest way to tell cymbal types is to look at the label on the top of the cymbal, which will state the cymbal type.

If that’s not possible, a typical crash cymbal size is 16″, while a ride is usually 20″.

Looking at the size is not foolproof, though, as my crashes are 19″ and 20″ (as seen in the labeled cymbal diagram near the start of the article).

When playing in heavy bands, I kept on breaking smaller crashes, so I bumped up the size until they stopped breaking. 

As mentioned, the crashes will usually sit higher than the ride.

Finally, when you tap the top, a ride will produce its signature ping sound and leave a long decaying note, while a crash will not.   

Wrapping Up

Keep in mind that the advice in this article is just that: Advice – not hard and fast rules. True masters know the usual ‘rules’ to using cymbals but also know when to break them.

If you watch the greats like Buddy Rich or Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, you’ll see them using their setup in unconventional ways.

For example, Bonham would play his kit with his hands in “Moby Dick,” and Rich would use the cymbal edges and drum rims in unusual ways when soloing.

Bonham even hit a plastic bin (or some say his drum throne) to keep the beat in the verses in “Ramble On.”

So just keep on ramblin’ on to find the right approach for you! 

Before you head off, check out our guide to the Best Audio Interfaces For Recording Drums.