by Sam Denov
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Retired)
Whoever came up with the idea that playing hand cymbals without pads was a good idea apparently didn’t know much about how cymbals vibrate. I have always used pads when playing hand cymbals ever since the first time I ever picked up a pair of cymbals in myÂ sophomore year in high school.
The notion that cymbals sound better when no pads are used is simply a misconception that somehow has been copied by many professionals, including most of the professionals in our major symphony orchestras. Even cymbal manufacturers picked up on the idea and always show their endorsers in photographs holding cymbals without pads. I wrote an article for the PAS many years ago about this subject. (See my article in the Percussive Arts Society publication, Percussive Notes, page 48, August, 2000.) The idea of playing cymbals without pads had become so well established by then that my article was obviously not taken seriously.
Yet, having always used pads on cymbals throughout my professional career, not only in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but also in the San Antonio, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle Symphony Orchestras under countless conductors, I have never been criticized for the quality of sound I produced by ANYONE!! In fact, the Chicago Tribune once had a photo of me in which I was described as â€œThe World’s Greatest Cymbal Player.â€ While that may have been an exaggeration, I must have been doing something right!
Let’s examine how a cymbal vibrates when being struck. The amplitude of vibration is greatest on the surface at its edge. As we examine the amplitude of vibration over the balance of its surface, it diminishes until it is virtually non-existent at its center. Therefore, the use of pads has NO EFFECT whatever on its center. Certainly, the surfaces of our fingers against the bells of the cymbals are not any different than having pads against the bell, as far as volume and quality are concerned. So, if we lose no amplitude or quality using pads, let us examine what we can GAIN with the use of pads.
The gains are twofold. First of all, we gain greater control over the cymbals’ motions. This is very important because controlling the cymbals’ motions allows them to be struck together in a manner that produces the best and most sound. Without using pads, our control over their motions is diminished. Try both methods, with and without using pads. See which method gives you the greatest control over the cymbals’ motion. You may very well find that the cymbals sound better with pads.
Second of all, playing hand cymbals without pads is incredibly uncomfortable. Have you ever seen the cymbalists in a drum corps or marching band NOT using pads? Now, there are many different types of pads. I don’t recommend using big wooly pads on concert hand cymbals. But, I believe you will absolutely LOVE using thin pads covered in either leather or plastic.
Don’t simply be a conformist that unthinkingly copies what others may be doing. Try the experiments I’ve recommended. You may actually discover that you’ve been missing out on the very best way to play hand cymbals: WITH PADS! Greater sound and comfort. Isn’t that what we strive for when playing hand cymbals?
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Sam Denov was a percussionist and timpanist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for more than thirty years. His biographical sketch appeared in Who’s Who In America and Who’s Who In Entertainment for two decades.
As a pioneer in improving the working lives of the CSO’s musicians during the 1960’s and ’70’s, he was involved in a number of adventures with conductors, union leaders and others involved with America’s downtrodden and powerless musicians. The book, Symphonic Paradox, is a page turner that you will not be able to put down until you have read it from cover to cover.