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.
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:
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.
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.