You can probably imagine what a dark or bright cymbal sounds like by way of connotations. Just to confirm your theories, dark cymbals have a brooding stronger emphasis on lower tones, while bright cymbals sound crisper and focus on the higher frequencies.
There are, however, a few discrepancies in the mix. Everyone has a different reference point of what is dark or bright, so it’s not the same from one drummer to the next.
Here are a few general factors that can impact the dark or bright attributes of a cymbal:
- Size and thickness
- Bell size
Cymbals have complex overtone structures, unlike a stringed instrument for example, which produces one clear note. A cymbal could potentially have a low fundamental pitch with emphasis on bright overtones.
There are two layers to the question – pitch and timbre. The former is most often referred to when referencing bright or dark, but the two go hand in hand. Despite the more uncommon previous example, a cymbal will usually have a higher pitch with bright tones and a lower one with dark tones.
We don’t have any metrics to categorise cymbals, so we have to rely on the brands telling us the purpose behind each range.
Why would you want a bright cymbal? These are great for cutting through a heavy mix or adding accents to your playing. Pop and rock players generally favour bright cymbals for their short decay and chimey punchiness.
To achieve the bright sound, the cymbals are generally on the smaller and thinner side of the design spectrum. This means they are responsive, direct and fade quickly after a hit. It does, however, vary from cymbal to cymbal. For example, a dry ride tends to be dark and fade fast. But this is just one exception to the rule of thumb.
One of the more noticeable factors when recognising a bright cymbal is its finish. Polished cymbals have a glistening shimmer to them and can add very subtle overtones which help cut through the rest of the kit. They might also have a slightly longer wash.
Well suited to rock music, The Sabian AAX and Paiste 2002 ranges offer metallic, bright tones. Both of these legendary line-ups have been used over the years on countless records. They sound brilliant, clear and powerful with high energy projection.